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A Sister to Sin: The Gangbanger and A Nun

Michael-Biondo-CC
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The two worlds are not so far from each other

Several months ago a woman came into the bookstore where I work. She was attractive and put together, but after a moment I began watching her carefully.

She seemed confused and slightly tipsy. She stumbled around the store lazily picking up items and surveying them before placing them back down.

At one point she was standing near what the sisters affectionately call the “Wailing Wall,” an area of the bookstore filled with an odd assortment of rosaries, scapulars, pins and medals. She motioned for me to come toward her.

“Did you choose to do this?” she said, aggressively, pointing to my habit.

Confused I said, “What do you mean?”

“I mean, did you actually want to become a nun or did someone force you?”

“Of course I did.” I replied, shocked.

“But you are so young, so pretty…” she continued.

I cut her off, “I’m older than I look.”

Sufficiently convinced that I was the real deal, the woman proceeded to confide in me that her son was in prison. She wept and showed me his baby picture.

The woman eventually walked unsteadily out of the bookstore, asking me to pray for her son as she left.

And I did.

Her son often came to my mind, and I would shoot up a simple prayer for his well-being, his safety and his peace.

The woman came back several times, sober and a bit sheepish. I would ask about her son and she would give me updates.

A few weeks ago she returns. Her face full of joy; she practically bounces through the door.

“He’s back. Can you say hello to him?” she says with a little hesitancy in her voice.

“Of course,” I say as I head toward the door, her hesitancy like a hand pulling me a step back.

I walk outside and immediately notice a new white sedan. The windows are darkly tinted and the car is slung low on the tarmac; the silver gleam of the rims burn my eyes in the bright sun. I walk to the driver’s side and can make out a man with sunglasses, bathed in tattoos.

I immediately realize that this man probably is (or was) in a gang.

Filled with the chutzpah that only an Italian background and the Holy Spirit can give you I rap on his window. He turns toward me with an unfriendly glare.

“Hi!” I say brightly, fully employing my “naive nun” routine, “Your mom wanted me to meet you.”

After a few moments, the man hesitantly opens the car door without looking at me.

He stays in his seat.

I wait, knowing I cannot really talk to him if his eyes stay glued to the steering wheel.

I realize that he is just as afraid of me as I am of him.

After an awkward moment he gets out of the car. I notice a tattoo on his neck in bold script: “La vida es sufrir” (life is suffering).

He moves uncomfortably from side to side.

I touch his arm and say, “I’ve been praying for you and I will keep praying for you. Feel free to come by to talk anytime. We have a chapel that you can visit.”

He takes his sunglasses off and squints in the sun, grinning slightly.

I just look at him intently as if to say, “I know this invitation seems absurd, but it still holds.”

We look at each other in silence for a few more seconds.

I wave and walk back to the bookstore, his mother close behind me. As I walk, I realize that, despite appearances, there is really not much that separates me from this mother’s son. Whatever he does, whatever he is involved in, it seems like it is only a few steps away. I can almost touch it. In some mysterious way I almost feel that I am him. In that moment something about my vocation clicks.

I am a sister: a sister to Jesus, a sister to gangbangers, a sister to grace, a sister to sin.

As I get to the door, the mother turns to me and says desperately, “He really is a good boy. Life has been really hard for him. But he is a good boy.”

“I know,” I say as I close the door.

Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP is a former atheist who, thanks to the grace of God, has returned to the faith she was raised in and now tries to help others bring their loved ones back to the faith. A few years after returning to the Church, she heard God calling her, so she left her job in Silicon Valley to join the Daughters of St. Paul. She is the author of The Prodigal You Love: Inviting Loved Ones Back to the Church. She now lives in Miami where she prays, evangelizes, bakes bread, and blogs at Pursued by Truth, where this article originally appeared. It is reprinted here with permission.

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