During my first semester of college at the University of New Mexico, I met and fell in love with a Catholic young man named Brent. I knew that one day we would get married and that when people decide to marry, it is not all that unusual for one to convert to the other's faith. But that is not the way it happened for me. I had no intention of becoming Catholic, and thought instead that eventually I would be successful in converting Brent to Lutheranism. After all, that had happened with a couple of the uncles in my family - why would it be any different for me?
But I was curious about Catholicism. I had a lot of misconceptions about their beliefs. Brent was very educated about his faith, so he passed on his knowledge to me. Even though this cleared up my misunderstandings and did a good job of explaining the reasons behind Catholic doctrines, it had no effect on my desire to remain Lutheran. Why would I change? The Catholics could believe as they wished. I was happy in my church.
Often times Brent would go to Confession, and I'd tag along and wait for him. I asked him about it, and he explained that Catholic priests claim to speak on behalf of Christ when they announce your sins to be forgiven. It grew on me. I wanted to hear the words, "You are forgiven," with my own ears. Then I thought that the closest thing I would get to hearing those words from Jesus would be to hear them from someone trying to represent Jesus. So, I asked Brent to take me to Confession.
Brent wasn't sure if I was allowed to go, since I wasn't Catholic and wasn't planning to be. But he took me anyway, and explained the situation to the partially bemused and baffled priest. After the entire line of people went through confession, I went to take my place - only to find the priest emerging from the confessional and beckoning me to meet elsewhere. He was a kind, endearing man with a sweet face. He told Brent, presumptuously, that I wasn't seeking confession - just counseling. And yet he engaged me face to face, which evidently is required for a first confession. He took me into the cry room at the church and sat me down.
I'm sure he was quite shocked when the floodgates opened. I had a lot of sin for which I still carried the guilt and shame. I dumped it all before him, and he realized immediately I was giving a genuine confession. He gave me the sacrament. The moment I heard the words of absolution (e.g. "...I forgive you of your sins, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit"), I was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Because I had never had a spiritual experience like that before, I didn't know what was happening to me. All I knew is that I didn't want to leave the church. I sat down in the pew for a few minutes, but the priest approached us and said it was time to lock up. So, I was forced to go. Then Brent asked me how it went, but I said, simply, "Not yet."
In Brent's car, I sat staring off into space. Brent said it looked like I was either going to burst into joyous laughter or tears. When we got back to his apartment, he asked again how it went.
Finally I erupted in an effusion of joy. The desire to sing hymns of praise came over me. I began singing Christian hymns that I knew from my childhood. It became clear to me that I was experiencing the Holy Spirit. I (errantly) concluded that the Holy Spirit was exclusively for Catholics, and that they must be the One True Church. I decided that moment that I'd become a Catholic.
I had taken my first steps on an unpredictable, amazing journey - and I never could have predicted what happened next.