This story appears in the May 2016 issue of the Catholic East Texas magazine.
I was raised as a pretty strict Calvinist Presbyterian, so I grew up in organized religion. I was really surrounded by Luther and Calvin as a youth, even if I didn’t really understand every point of Protestant theology. We went to church and Sunday school every week, and we were taught to quote the Bible. I didn’t know anything about Catholicism, but I was pretty sure that Catholics were wrong, and I believed all the typical myths about Catholics. I really considered Catholicism to be something like voodoo.
I went to school at Texas State, or Southwest Texas as it was known then, and obtained a degree in history. I was teaching history, and by then I saw the Catholic Church strictly as history. I knew that the Catholic Church had a huge influence on the history of the world, as any decent historian would, but that’s all it was for me. Also, being in academia bred a lot of skepticism in me, and I fell out of touch even with Protestant theology and became an agnostic. It seemed to me that Christianity was self-defeating, with no way to establish the truth, and the fact that there were thousands of different denominations and opinions and interpretations of Scripture in the religion made it silly and impossible. I wasn’t able to put two and two together, and see what Catholicism meant to this issue, not yet. I knew all the dates and places in the history of Catholicism, but I didn’t know what they meant.
Over the next ten years, I began a teaching career, played music professionally, met and married my wife Yvette, and eventually we settled in Nacogdoches. My wife is a cradle Catholic. She asked me how I expected a child to be raised in our household, and told me she intended to raise our child as a Catholic. Well, I didn’t really care. Raising our child Catholic was fine with me; I wasn’t buying into any denomination. By this time, I had regained a basic belief in God, but I was skeptical about anything claiming to be “the truth.”
I agreed to go to RCIA, not to become Catholic, but just to understand my wife’s religion, and I met Monsignor Jim Young. I immediately saw Monsignor Young as my opponent. I didn’t believe much from my Protestant training, but I wanted to win an argument against this priest. I figured I knew so much Protestant theology that I could defeat him and humble him. I couldn’t wait to get to RCIA class every week. I intended to convert this priest to Protestantism!
Every week I would bring in my best objections to Catholicism and Monsignor would smile and laugh, and charitably destroy them. He was kind and respectful, but he knew the answer and the Scripture citation to every crazy question and objection I had. This caused me to go and research and read the Bible and try to prove him wrong…but I couldn’t. Debating with him made me pore over the Scriptures day and night, thinking about aspects of religion I never had before. This went on for a year.
We debated everything. We debated what the Bible said about everything. He showed me verses I had never seen or never noticed that explained Catholic principles. He used a light touch, and he knew exactly what he was doing. He left me wanting to go and do more research. He knew how to use my rebellion and pride to spur me to really question what I knew about the Church. I tried so many times to beat Monsignor Young and the Catholic Church, but I never could.
I was also going to Mass, and being in Mass is a perfect opportunity to contemplate the Catholic Church. I remember being in Mass and thinking for the first time, “Catholics might be right.” I knew that I couldn’t really believe that Protestantism was the way, because I couldn’t accept that all Christianity was built on was opinions that caused all of these divisions. I knew that God was not a source of confusion. For the first time, I realized clearly that what was bothering me was the issue of authority.
What I was recognizing was something that people had been realizing during the entire history of the Church: in order for Christians to be One, to be united in the truth, God had to provide a sure source of that truth. I already knew that the Bible itself could not be that authoritative source, because my experience as a Protestant showed me that any person could claim their own unique interpretation of it. I was searching for the logical cornerstone of Christian Truth.
I came to Monsignor Young and I told him that I realized that all of the objections I had made, all of the issues I had raised, all of them rested on the issue of authority. If Christ had founded a Church and given it the authority to speak the truth and settle disputes, then all of these objections disappeared. He said, “That’s it! You have it. You’ve cracked the code!”
I had been in possession of this knowledge for a long time; I just hadn’t realized it. I had studied the Catholic Church as a secular historian, but I had never understood the significance of the Church meeting in council to settle disputes, or of the Popes teaching the Church on matters of faith and morals. I realized that I already knew that nowhere in the Bible does it teach that the Bible is the only rule for Christians, and I already knew that in the Gospel, Jesus calls Peter the “rock on which I will build my Church.” Everything, a whole lifetime of little facts about Christianity, suddenly made sense.
As Monsignor Young explained, authority was part of Christianity from the very beginning, because Jesus founded it that way. The authority He possessed, He clearly gave to the Apostles, who ruled the Church before there ever was any New Testament scripture. They ordained the bishops of the Church, and it was only by the authority given to them that the Bible was assembled, much later.
What I came to understand is that really, everything hinges on one question: Did Jesus Christ found a Church? If Jesus founded a Church, then this is the organization He promised to be with until the end of time, and that He promised would be guided by the Holy Spirit. This is exactly what I found in the gospels and the epistles, the Church founded by Christ, doing its thing long before the Bible even existed. The Church always operated by the authority Jesus gave it.
So, I became Catholic in 1997. It’s the best decision I ever made, although it hasn’t been easy. Becoming Catholic allows me to see my entire life in sharp focus. It’s like unlocking a door, and I can see my life from the standpoint of my conscience. I look back on all of these years and I see that God was calling to me for a long, long time. I can see all of the opportunities I had to begin to live a holier life, but I always had an excuse to say no. Now, as a Catholic, I have all of the teaching of the Catholic Church to inform my conscience and teach me God’s will.
Of course, becoming Catholic, I had to make that first confession. Monsignor Young helped me through it. Like everyone making a first confession, you’re afraid that the priest is going to be scandalized and that your sins are the worst ever. Later you realize that priests have heard it all and sin is extremely boring. It took a while. I had to confess a whole lifetime worth of sins, sins from my youth, from college, from my career in music…everything. Monsignor helped me, he was patient with me, and he let me get it all out. Now, I go to confession regularly and it’s wonderful.
Along the way, we have moved to Tyler and we go to Mass at the Cathedral. I felt a desire to learn to serve the Mass, and now I serve Mass every morning. Before I was Catholic, I felt like my life just wasn’t complete, but now I start every day at the altar, serving, and life just makes sense.
The issue of authority is an important one in Christianity. It took me a long time to understand that Christ had founded a Church, but now I understand that He did so out of love for us. I am so very happy to be a part of it.
Hardy Brunette is the lead guitarist for Texas Rebellion. You can find their tour schedule, videos, music and much more at their website, www.texasrebellion.com. Hardy and his family are parishioners of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Tyler.