Drafted By God, The Story of Frater Matthew Desme

Drafted By God, The Story of Frater Matthew Desme September 28, 2012

Image Credit: Rick Belcher/St. Michael’s Abbey

I said I’m gone readin’ and I am. In fact, I just read the best sports story I’ve seen in a while covered on Yahoo! Sports, and it’s so good, I have to share it with you. Naturally, as something related to God, Heaven, and our vocations as Christians, it’s wrapped up in baseball. Jeff Passen shares the story with us. Have a look,

SILVERADO, Calif. – On the morning Grant Desme ceased to exist, he was at peace. He spent years searching for serenity, convinced it was coming soon, next, now. It never did. Life was a blaring stereo, and he had become numb to its noise. The sound finally abated when he arrived here. He believed God muted it.

So on Christmas Eve two years ago he and seven other men marched into the church at St. Michael’s Abbey and readied for a transition the church considered spiritual death. Grant Desme would go by another name. His plainclothes would become a head-to-toe white habit. For the next two years, he would commit to the dual life of a priest-in-training and a monk in the Norbertine Order. The naming ceremony bound him to the virtues of chastity, poverty and obedience.

To determine his new name, Desme submitted three choices from which St. Michael’s abbot and spiritual leader, the Rt. Rev. Eugene J. Hayes, would choose. Desme liked Paul, Louis and Moses. None sounded right. Neither did Desme’s second round of choices. On his vestition day, he knelt before the Father Abbot Eugene, who handed him a copy of the rule of St. Augustine.

“And in our order,” he said, “you will be called Matthew.”

One day later, Frater Matthew Desme approached Father Abbot Eugene. For the rest of his life, people would call him Matthew. He wanted to know why.

“He said it struck him because [Saint Matthew] was a rich tax collector,” Frater Matthew says, “and I was a rich baseball player.”

On the afternoon Grant Desme retired from baseball, he was at peace. The world in which he had immersed himself was shocked and dumbfounded, of course, that a strapping 23-year-old center fielder with power, speed, smarts and just about everything baseball teams want in a player would quit. Sports is a place of great myopia, insular thinking and exaggerated accomplishment that conflates excellence and holiness. In baseball, God is the home run. And Desme knew that God well.

He hit 31 of them during the minor league season and another 11 in the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League, where he won the Most Valuable Player award in November 2009. He emerged as the talk of the league, and the team that drafted him in the second round and signed him for $430,000, the Oakland Athletics, started dreaming on Desme’s future.

“He was going to be a major leaguer, absolutely,” A’s general manager Billy Beane says. “He looked like he’d gotten over that hump. And he could’ve been a lot more. A great talent.”

People in the game scrambled to understand why Desme would give up the riches and the platform baseball affords to spread the word of God. The decision wasn’t met with derision as much as wonderment. Athletes leave when their talents or bodies or something tangible betrays them. Desme left ascendant.

“I had everything I wanted,” he says, “and it wasn’t enough.”

Yes, you will want to read it all.

In a way, it’s providential that I saw this story so soon after cracking open Blessed John XXIII’s Journal of a Soul.  So far, I’ve only read the first entry for the year 1895, when Angelo Roncalli was all of 14 years of age. Written like a future Hall of Famer for Christ, his Rules of life to be observed by young men who wish to make progress in the life of piety and study, is simply amazing coming from so young a person.

But when God calls, nothing else can satisfy our hearts. What good does it do for a man to win the world and lose his soul? The world alone, and what it offers,  is not enough to satisfy us. Frater Matthews’ story is still in the first innings, as is our own. Reorienting our lives towards Christ and service to God always seems foolish on the surface. That is, until you realize that true foolishness is to live like the world,

For, not thinking rightly, they said among themselves:

“Brief and troubled is our lifetime;
there is no remedy for our dying,
nor is anyone known to have come back from Hades.

For by mere chance were we born,
and hereafter we shall be as though we had not been;
Because the breath in our nostrils is smoke,
and reason a spark from the beating of our hearts,

And when this is quenched, our body will be ashes
and our spirit will be poured abroad like empty air.

Even our name will be forgotten in time,
and no one will recall our deeds.
So our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud,
and will be dispersed like a mist
Pursued by the sun’s rays
and overpowered by its heat.

For our lifetime is the passing of a shadow;
and our dying cannot be deferred
because it is fixed with a seal; and no one returns.

Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that are here,
and make use of creation with youthful zest.

Let us have our fill of costly wine and perfumes,
and let no springtime blossom pass us by;

let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither.

Let no meadow be free from our wantonness;
everywhere let us leave tokens of our merriment,
for this is our portion, and this our lot.

Let us oppress the righteous poor;
let us neither spare the widow
nor revere the aged for hair grown white with time.

But let our strength be our norm of righteousness;
for weakness proves itself useless.

Let us lie in wait for the righteous one, because he is annoying to us;
he opposes our actions,
Reproaches us for transgressions of the law
and charges us with violations of our training.

He professes to have knowledge of God
and styles himself a child of the LORD.

To us he is the censure of our thoughts;
merely to see him is a hardship for us,

Because his life is not like that of others,
and different are his ways.

He judges us debased;
he holds aloof from our paths as from things impure.
He calls blest the destiny of the righteous
and boasts that God is his Father.

Let us see whether his words be true;
let us find out what will happen to him in the end.

For if the righteous one is the son of God, God will help him
and deliver him from the hand of his foes.

With violence and torture let us put him to the test
that we may have proof of his gentleness
and try his patience.

Let us condemn him to a shameful death;
for according to his own words, God will take care of him.”

These were their thoughts, but they erred;
for their wickedness blinded them,

And they did not know the hidden counsels of God;
neither did they count on a recompense for holiness
nor discern the innocent souls’ reward.

For God formed us to be imperishable;
the image of his own nature he made us.

But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world,
and they who are allied with him experience it.

Bad trade, that.


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