Grant Desme’s journey: The baseball star who joined a monastery returns to baseball

Grant Desme’s journey: The baseball star who joined a monastery returns to baseball October 13, 2018

A few years ago, for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, I preached a homily about Grant Desme — a “rich man” of our own age who gave up everything to join the Norbertines in California:

In 2009, Grant Desme was one of the hottest rising stars in American baseball — a center-fielder playing for a farm team for the Oakland A’s.  During the minor league season in 2009, he hit 31 home runs. In November of 2009, he was voted the league’s Most Valuable Player.  When the opportunity came, he was drafted by the Oakland A’s in the second round and signed for a salary of $430,000 a year.  He was looking at a future a lot of young men dream about, where people would see him on cereal boxes and line up to have him sign bats and caps.

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But just two months after signing that contract, Grant Desme announced he was quitting.  People were stunned.  Since the age of four, all he’d ever wanted was to play baseball.  But he realized that he wanted something else more.

He wanted to be a priest.

In the fall of 2010, he entered St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado. The man who seemed destined to be a household name changed his name.  Or rather, he had his name changed for him.

He was given the name of Matthew.  He asked his superior why. “He said it was because Matthew was a rich tax collector,” Brother Matthew explained recently. “And I was a rich baseball player.”

“I had everything I wanted,” he said. “And it wasn’t enough.”

One of his teammates put it this way: “His love for God took over his love for baseball.”

Re-reading that homily this morning, I wondered what had happened to Brother Matthew.

I found this story from this past June, which told the rest of the story. The fact is, he stayed at the abbey for eight years, but left in 2017. He is now trying to return to baseball and has been coaching at Ave Maria University:

To understand Desme’s acts, one must understand his past. When he joined the abbey, he said the toughest dreams to leave behind were not baseball-related. Winning a World Series, becoming a multimillionaire before he turned 30, having random people tweet mechanical advice at him — those aspirations were never that important. What was important to Desme, and what he found hardest to detach from, was the craving to get married and have children. Embracing monastic life meant ending a relationship he thought had marriage potential.

Desme subdued thoughts of his alternate reality for a time, but they eventually overpowered him, validating existential philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s claim that “the most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly the one you’ll never have.” Desme may or may not know the quote, but he understands the sentiment.

“The whole time really I was wrestling with what way I was being called to give myself to Christ,” he said, explaining how he felt God had been calling him to service. “The desire to get married increased more and more the longer I was at the monastery, while that didn’t necessarily happen with the desire to become a priest. I came to the conclusion that God was calling me to married life.”

If Desme has regrets, they aren’t evident in how he talks about life at the abbey. He cherished being nurtured intellectually and spiritually, with extensive study appealing to his attentive nature (Schafer described him as “the kind of guy who understands things”). Meanwhile, the close-knit community allowed him to forge meaningful relationships with his fellow brothers, whom he labels his best friends. Those at the abbey, including his spiritual director Father Ambrose Criste, have stayed in touch and assisted Desme since he departed.

Father Criste and the rest of the Abbey’s leadership are accustomed to this outcome, anyway. As Desme puts it, “People come, stay for various amount of times and leave — or they stay forever.” Few stay forever. Jeff Passan, who wrote the definitive article about Desme’s retirement, noted about 30 percent of seminarians at St. Michael’s Abbey are ordained as priests.

The story concludes:

“I’m grateful that I did it and the adventure just continues,” he said. “We’ll see what God has in store for me.”

To understand Grant Desme, one must understand that he will go where he feels called.

Isn’t that the story for all of us?

Check out the video below from this summer, which tells more of his story and includes a recent interview.

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