Bishop Glen John Provost

Bishop of Lake Charles

Church of the Immaculate Conception

Jennings, Louisiana

March 6, 2016
Fourth Sunday of Lent

“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.”  Luke 15:21

Contrition means sorrow for sin.   We find this sorrow expressed beautifully in the Gospel parable we call the “Prodigal Son.” 

In the story Jesus tells us there was a younger son who impetuously asked his father for his share of the inheritance in advance.  This young man then went away, squandered his money, and eventually was destitute.   The only work he could find was feeding pigs.   This is a particularly significant point because pigs were unclean animals for the Jews.   These circumstances tell us how miserable was his condition, where “he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any” (Luke 15:16). 

Finally, the son comes to his senses and realizes what he must do.   He must return to his father and say, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I no longer deserve to be called your son” (Luke 15:18-19).   

When the grace of contrition comes to us, we should not delay.   Sorrow for sin is a sign from God that He is calling us to return to Him.   We must not frustrate the movement of God’s grace.   We must leave the “pig pen” of our sins behind and immediately go to the Father, admit our guilt, and ask forgiveness. 

Sorrow for sin should always be taken seriously.  We should never put off confessing our sins.   Our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the Sacrament of Penance so that we could return to the Father for this precise purpose.     For this reason, Jesus said to His disciples, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven, and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20:23).    He wanted His Church to continue extending the mercy of God abundantly to all who repent.  

God wants us to hear the words spoken by the Father in the parable.  “[Y]our brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found” (John 15:32).   Every time a priest says the words to a repentant sinner, “And I absolve you from your sins,” the priest is expressing the fulfillment of the Divine intention that all sinners return to the Father to receive His forgiveness. 

What more powerful words exist in the English language than “I forgive you.”   The only words that are perhaps more significant are “I love you.”   But to hear the words, “I forgive you,” express a freedom and bring about a peace that this world cannot give us.  

This is one of the reasons the Sacrament of Penance exists, so that we can hear those words spoken to us.   The Sacrament of Penance, what we call confession, is a lived moment of peace and reconciliation.  We do not merely talk about forgiveness.  We live it.  The Sacrament of Penance is the celebration of forgiveness.

The movement to forgiveness all begins with the moment we sense the reality of sin in our lives, that we have done something wrong that needs pardon.   May the example of the Prodigal Son inspire us to move from the feeding of pigs to the banquet the Father has prepared for His children who have returned to life.