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 now lives in Miami, where she prays, evangelizes, bakes bread, and blogs.
What inspired you to write “The Prodigal You Love?”
I remember reading that JK Rowling described the entire Harry Potter series as falling “into her head.” That seemed quite unbelievable (and creepy) to me. But I thought of this because The Prodigal You Love kind of fell into my head also.
However, there is no mystery for me about where the idea for my book came from; it definitely was an inspiration from the Holy Spirit. When I first joined the convent, people would ask me to pray for their loved ones who were away from the Church. This happens to many priests and sisters but I felt like God was tapping me on the shoulder every time it happened. Then one day when I was praying about a class assignment, the book just came to me. The title, even the chapter names just dropped into my head. The actual writing of the book was much more difficult, but the initial idea came so effortlessly and clearly that I knew it was from God.
How did you go from Catholic revert into religious life? Tell me your vocation story.
Basically God is the only reason I am here. There is no way I would be in the convent today without his prompting. Since I was an atheist and away from the Church for over ten years, becoming a religious sister was not in my plans. Ever. Even after I returned to the Church it never even crossed my mind until God started to nudge me in this direction.
God began to prod me to discern one day when I was on the subway on my way to work. I saw a nun out of the corner of my eye. I turned and the person I thought was a sister was just an ordinary woman like me making her way to work. This was the first time it happened but it kept happening, over and over again. I would see a veil or a habit in my periphery; I would turn quickly and nothing.
After this happened several times, over the course of a few weeks, I became quite puzzled. It didn’t take very long for me to wonder, “What if God wants me to be a nun!?!” To be totally honest, I was absolutely appalled at the idea and pretty much shook my fist at God and said, “Don’t even think about it.” Thankfully, I had just started seeing a spiritual director who helped me to see that God, who had created my heart, was just asking me to be open to his plan for my happiness.
You already know the end of the story but I can really relate to Jeremiah the prophet who said, “You seduced me, LORD, and I let myself be seduced; you were too strong for me, and you prevailed” (Jer 20:7). That line is also translated, “You duped me Lord, and I let myself be duped.” I can relate to both translations.
Describe a typical day in your life.
There really is no typical day for a Daughter of St. Paul. We are crazy busy and there are always lots of things happening. But our founder, Blessed James Alberione, made sure that amidst the busyness of our apostolic life, which is focused on evangelization through the modern media, we would also become contemplatives. He established the Pauline way to holiness by giving us a half hour of meditation on the Gospel, Mass, morning and evening prayer as well as an hour of adoration every day.
While he was still alive, one of the Daughters of St. Paul came to him and said, “We have so much to do and so little time. Can we decrease the amount that we pray?” Blessed James said to her, “If you think you need less time to pray you need more.” And so he added another half hour of prayer to our day. This time for prayer in my day is like the center of a vortex. Lots of things happen around me but my time with Jesus is the foundation and heart of my life and my apostolic work.
What are the pros and cons to living in a convent?
Lots of people idealize life in the convent and wax eloquent on the beauty of religious life. And it is beautiful. But it is also difficult. God calls all kinds of women to the convent and every single one of us would say, if we are being honest, that we sometimes wish he would refrain from calling the people who irritate or bother us. But it is precisely the things that are difficult that will make us holy.
For me, the best thing about living in a convent, despite all the difficulties, is that I am constantly reminded that my life is meant to be centered on Jesus. I am not always focused on Jesus but the very rhythm and nature of our life reminds us that Jesus should be the center and we are constantly being called back to that ideal. This is a blessing.
Aside from your book, what would you recommend to people who have friends or family who have fallen away from the Church?
There is so much that I say in The Prodigal You Love that I think is really crucial in relating to loved ones who are away from the Church.But to put the core of my book very simply, I would say that the most important thing that we can do to invite others back to the Church is to focus on our own holiness. It is through a strong, personal relationship with Jesus that we are going to invite others to the same joy and peace that he brings to our lives.
I also would add that many people think that inviting others back to the Church involves so much and is so complicated. I don’t think it needs to be this way. This is why I try to write very succinctly and clearly in my book about the methods we can use to evangelize our loved ones. This is how Jesus evangelized. He invited people by his closeness to the Father and through straightforward invitations. I think a huge number of people could begin to make the journey back to the Church if their friends, family and neighbors would simply have the courage to invite them to Mass or Eucharistic adoration. God’s grace is abundant. This is clear in my story as someone who was a former atheist and is now a nun. I believe that the grace I received is not special; it is available to everyone.
Who are your go-to saints?
Mary, St. Paul, St. Thérèse, Padre Pio, St. John the Baptist, Blessed James Alberione, St. Joan of Arc, Servant of God Dorothy Day, Venerable Mother Thecla, St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Hildegard.
What advice do you have for women who are discerning religious life?
Visit convents and get to know sisters. I know many young women who spend a lot of time discerning before making this step. I think some are afraid that they will be dragged into the convent and pressured into signing up right away. This should not be what happens. If it is, run away. Any healthy order will allow young women to explore and get to know their sisters before handing an interested woman an application. I never felt an iota of pressure from my sisters to commit to this life, even after spending four years in the convent discerning before making vows. Religious life is about a free choice. But we can’t make a choice about something we don’t know. So visiting is important.
Also, one of my sisters, Sr. Marie-Paul Curley has an entire web site devoted to discernment. I suggest that anyone discerning check it out: Co-Author Your Life with God.