How a Thief in Lourdes Taught Me a Lesson on Repentance

“Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings He wills to send you, as an act of reparation for the conversion of sinners?”

— Our Lady of Fatima

I try to visit Lourdes once a year to spend time in prayer with Jesus and Mary. During my week-long visits, I concelebrate the English Mass. The Mass tends to be for “orphan” pilgrims, because most pilgrims come with a group and a priest. I always enjoy speaking with people after Mass, outside the chapel, learning who they are, where they are from, and what they are praying for. One couple that caught my eye were quite young, in their early twenties. The opportunity to speak with them never presented itself; they always left the chapel hurriedly after Mass. But I ruminate on the questions in my mind: Who are they? Where are they from? What are they praying for?

As I was walking the streets on my final night in Lourdes, I happened upon the couple. I introduced myself to them and remarked on how moving it was to see them at Mass each day. It was dinnertime, so I asked them, “I’m going to get dinner. Would you like to get something to eat together?” They said yes, and we set off to find a restaurant that none of us had tried.

After we sat down at the table, I asked a question that I shouldn’t have: “What do you do for a living?” The young man prefaced the question quite strangely: “Father, I can’t lie to you. You are a priest after all.” I wasn’t prepared for the words that followed next. “I’m a thief.”

I immediately said, “You are joking, right?” He wasn’t.

“I’m a thief. I break into cars, steal things, and then sell them.” Things became a little awkward. We placed our order, and I continued to press him.

Many people, when they visit the site of a Marian apparition, make it a point to go to Confession. For some people, celebrat­ing the sacrament in this place facilitates strong conversions in their lives. I asked the young man, “Did you go to Confession while you were here?” He had. I asked him, “Did you tell the priest that you steal things?” He had. I then asked, “What was your penance?” He was told to offer his next Communion for his family.

This article is adapted from Fr. Looney’s A Lenten Journey With Mother Mary.

I then decided to impart some fatherly advice to the man. “You have to stop stealing things. Your wife is here. You have a child back in England. You are going to get caught and go to jail, and what is going to happen to them? You need to find a good job.” He told me that stealing was all he knew, that he lived in a bad part of town, and that he would most likely continue to steal. I’ve thought of this young couple and their child from time to time, and I’ve prayed for them, hoping that God will break through in their lives.

What troubled me the most about this conversation was that the young man evidently hadn’t repented of the wrong that he had done. It seemed to me there was no purpose of amendment in his life. When we go to Confession, it seems as if we always confess the same sins, but I hope the difference between the thief and us is that we try our best not to commit these sins in the future.

What Repentance Looks Like

The thief taught me that I needed to be repentant for my own sins. But what does repentance look like?

First, we need to acknowledge something as wrong and name it. If we don’t name it, we can’t repent of it. Second, confessing that wrong is important. We can confess in our daily prayer, perhaps each eve­ning before bed, during our examination of conscience. Is there anything I said or did today that I need to repent of? If there is, I can confess it in my prayer and ask God for help to do better the next day. The other way of confessing is sacramentally bringing our sins to Jesus in the confessional and receiving His pardon and absolution. Repentance involves a purpose of amendment, some concrete action that can be done to make up for what we have done. Lastly, there should be a resolution not to commit those sins in the future.

What might repentance look like for the thief with whom I had dinner? He’d have to realize that stealing is wrong and that he shouldn’t take things that people have bought for themselves. Second, being sincere in prayer and confessing it would be the next step (even though he already has done the latter). Third, he probably should give some money to charity, as a way to say, “What I have doesn’t belong to me — it belongs to someone else — and I’ll help someone else with the money that is not rightfully mine.” Lastly, his resolution to avoid stealing might include learning a trade or applying for a job so that he may no longer live that lifestyle.

What sins are present in your life? How can you repent of them?

Spend a few moments in prayer, considering the sins you typically confess. How have you repented of them in the past? How will you repent in the future?

Dear Blessed Mary, please pray for me, that I might have true sorrow and contrition for my sins and repent of them.

This article is a preview of Fr. Edward Looney’s latest book, A Lenten Journey With Mother Mary. It is available as an ebook or paperback from your local Catholic bookstore or online through Sophia Institute Press.

For more guidance on how you can walk with Mary throughout Lent, check out our podcast below as well as on Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, or wherever you enjoy listening to podcasts.

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Fr. Edward Looney is a priest in the Diocese of Green Bay, a Marian theologian, author, columnist, media personality, podcaster, film enthusiast, and fellow pilgrim. He is the host of the podcast, Hey Everybody! It’s Fr. Edward. You can follow him on social media at the handle @FrEdwardLooney.

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