The former second-round draft choice of the Oakland A’s, Brother Matthew Desme shocked the baseball world by announcing his retirement from the game in January 2010. Only 23 at the time, Grant Desme had recently been named the 2009 Arizona Fall League MVP and was on the verge of playing in the majors. Despite his athletic success, the former center fielder knew he was called to something greater.
Desme left behind all his worldly goods — including a sizable baseball contract, shiny SUV and state-of-the-art cellphone — to embrace a life of poverty, celibacy and obedience. Now, his confreres at St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, Calif., know him as Frater (Brother) Matthew Desme.
In a rare interview, Frater Matthew recently discussed his new life inside St. Michael’s Abbey.
You entered the seminary in the fall of 2010. How many years do you have left before ordination?
After this school year, I’ll have one more year of philosophy, four years of theology and one apostolic year in Rome. It’s a long haul, but I’m not looking too far ahead. I’m really immersed in philosophy right now.
Do you miss playing baseball?
When I first left baseball, I didn’t miss it one bit. I was very happy to be giving it up for good. However, I have been able to play the game since then, because there are other brothers here who play baseball.
I still don’t miss playing professionally, but I’ve come to enjoy the game of baseball itself more. When I let go of it as my idol, I was enabled to enjoy it for what it’s worth. When you’re projecting your own designs on something and taking it more seriously than it should be, you don’t get what God intended you to get out of it.
When you simply accept things for what they are and don’t expect more than what they can give, you experience the satisfaction you’re supposed to.
How did you first realize that baseball wouldn’t bring you ultimate happiness?
At every stage of my career, I thought happiness was around the corner. No matter how well I played or how far I advanced, I never gained the complete, lasting happiness I was expecting. There were thrills, but none of them lasted. Everything here below is fleeting.
I injured my shoulder while playing for the Vancouver Canadians, a minor-league team for the Oakland A’s, in 2007. During rehab, I sat out with another player, who didn’t speak much English. I was separated from the team and even from the other player who was injured. It was initially disconcerting, but it was really a period of great grace.
I was removed from the superficial chatter and other noise that I had been accustomed to via electronic media. It was through the silence and solitude that I started to think beyond the baseball field and about life in general. I realized that even if I played 20 years in the major leagues and ended up a Hall of Famer, I would still die one day. No matter what I achieved, I would be just as dead as everyone else in the cemetery.
I then thought of my particular judgment and how I would be held accountable for every decision I made in life. Eternal punishment or reward would follow, based on whether or not I was a faithful disciple of Jesus. It became clear that I had to get into a deeper, more prayerful relationship with the Lord.
Former professional soccer player Chase Hilgenbrinck announced in 2008 that he would be leaving soccer to pursue the priesthood. Did his decision influence yours?
I remember reading about Chase’s decision, but it didn’t affect my own. At that point, I hadn’t seriously considered becoming a priest. I was still on the road back to the Lord in a more general way.
Once I started to consider the priesthood seriously, I almost immediately knew it was for me. There was no gut-wrenching discernment; just a simple knowledge that Jesus was calling me to continue his life and ministry. That was the Lord’s loving invitation to me, and I knew living it out would make me truly happy.
I would recommend looking into the priesthood to young men who think they might be called. There’s nothing the world needs more than the mercy of Jesus Christ, which is granted through his priests. It’s a spiritual fatherhood that is even more profound than physical fatherhood. It’s something the saints have written about in almost unbelievable terms. It’s mind-boggling to think of what Jesus wants to give us through spiritual fathers.
What would you say to young men who think they may have a priestly or religious calling but are afraid of giving up worldly things to pursue it?
I was living out every young man’s dream. I was playing well enough to be a major-league baseball player. I had a big, shiny SUV and even bigger bank account. That’s what most people would think of as being at the pinnacle of manhood. You’ve got all these things that display how strong and capable you are: You become better known, people want to be around you, and everything looks great.
That’s a very superficial form of masculinity, though. It’s based on externals and trying to put yourself before others. I’ve since learned an authentic masculinity based on self-sacrificing love. Being a man is not about stepping on others, but lifting others up. It’s about using the God-given strength you have to protect others and guide them to eternal life.
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Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.