September 2012

Frater Matthew (formerly Grant) Desme (L) participates in a ceremony on All Souls’ Day. (Rick Belcher/St. Michael’s …SILVERADO, Calif.

It’s not often I look to Yahoo! Sports for inspirational pieces about faith, but Jeff Passan’s story of Grant Desme giving up a promising baseball career to follow Christ was too good to pass up.  Hope you all enjoy!


– 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.”

He had tried to convince himself it was. He spent his whole life idealizing and idolizing baseball. And now he was willing to leave it. The cell phone, the laptop, the car – the material things, he figured, would be easy. The trouble in the coming years – two as a novice, eight more until his ordination and the rest of his life as a priest – would concern what he gave up and whether he made the right choice.

He first told his parents, Greg and Janis. They knew Grant had spent time meeting priests, with whom he discussed fulfillment and peace, those symbiotic virtues, and how he felt neither. Greg and Janis figured his burgeoning career would overwhelm any calling. They were wrong. And proud. Though they thought it fair to ask why. Why now?

“Grant’s personality has a tendency to jump first and think about things later,” Greg says. “You don’t want to look back and say, ‘What if I would’ve stayed?’ You don’t want those questions. And when I said that, he got mad.”

Nobody knew that Grant Desme had spent two years’ worth of nights trying to resolve those what-if questions. And that no matter how much he tried, there was one he still couldn’t answer.



Today we take a moment to remember a hero of the faith, Wilson Carlile, founder of the Church Army.  Carlile was a musician for D.L. Moody who went on to become an Anglican Priest.  The Church of England at the time was considered to be an institution for the well-to-do, and Carlile was determined to make Jesus famous among all people…the rich, the poor, soldiers, factory workers, farmers, etc.  To do this, he created the evangelistic society mentioned above.  Carlile brought the Gospel to everyman, no matter what they lacked in terms of status. 

There are great lessons to be learned from Carlile.  We as Christians are often guilty of separating ourselves from those who need Christ for the sake of hoping to preserve our own purity or “testimony”.  We speak our own language, have our dress codes, our own standards for behavior.  Look at how many things we own that bear the name “Christian”…our books, our exercise programs, our music, and Lord have mercy, even our breath mints.  We are tempted to be exclusive, a club too good for sinners…The folks who don’t talk, look, smell, or live like we do.  We can be, as my grandma used to say, Lady Astor-butts, snobbish in our determination to be, or at least appear to be, separated from “the world”. 

Carlile teaches us to remember the disaffected, the disenfranchised, and the downtrodden.  My prayer today is that I would always remember the poor, and know that but for the grace of God, I could be in their shoes.  Lord, make me compassionate.  Lord, make us, the Church, compassionate.

* Born in 1847 in Brixton, England, Wilson Carlile was from an early age afflicted with spinal disease, which made his education difficult. He entered his grandfather’s business at the age of thirteen and soon became fluent in French, which he used in his own silk trading endeavors in Paris. His business was eventually ruined in the economic depression of the 1870’s. The collapse of his business resulted in physical and emotional distress, and it was during this time that Carlile turned to religion for comfort and a new sense of direction.

After serving as an organist in Dwight L. Moody’s evangelistic missions, Carlile was ordained a priest in 1881, serving his curacy at St. Mary Abbots, the parish church in Kensington. He had long been concerned with the church’s lack of presence among the poor and working classes, and as a curate, he encouraged soldiers, grooms, coachmen, and other working laymen to preach the gospel among the residents of some of the worst slums of London. Many among the church establishment accused Carlile of “dragging the church into the gutter.”

In 1882 he resigned his curacy and devoted himself to the formal establishment of the Church Army, an organization dedicated to the proclamation of the gospel among the least of society. Despite great resistance, he sought official approval for his organization and its work from the Church of England Congress in 1883. In 1885, the Upper Convocation of Canterbury passed a resolution officially approving and recognizing the Church Army. Carlile served as rector of St. Mary-at-Hill, Eastcheap, London, from 1892-1926, where he continued his administration of the Army’s ministry. In 1905 he was honored as a Prebendary of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Today, Church Army evangelists are admitted to their offices on behalf of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, both of whom are vice-presidents of the society. They are licensed to operate within the Anglican system by individual diocesan bishops within the United Kingdom and Ireland.

“I have seen the crucified and risen Lord as truly as if He had made Himself visible to my bodily sight. That is for me the conclusive evidence of His existence. He touched my heart, and old desires and hopes left it. In their place came the new thought that I might serve Him and His poor and suffering brethren.” – Wilson Carlile

To learn more about Church Army, click here.

* This biography of Fr. Carlile is borrowed  from the website for The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music of  The Episcopal Church.

Here’s a repeat of one of my favorite songs, previously posted here.  Ladies and Gentlemen, Gillian Welch & David Rawlings!

All the girls all dance with the boys from the city,
And they don’t care to dance with me.
Now it ain’t my fault that the fields are muddy,
And the red clay stains my feet.

And it’s under my nails and it’s under my collar,
And it shows on my Sunday clothes.
Though I do my best with the soap and the water,
But the damned old dirt won’t go.

But when I pass through the pearly gate,
Will my gown be gold instead?
Or just a red clay robe with red clay wings,
And a red clay halo for my head?

Now it’s mud in the spring and it’s dust in the summer,
When it blows in a crimson tide.
Until trees and leaves and the cows are the colour,
Of the dirt on the mountainside.

But when I pass through the pearly gate,
Will my gown be gold instead?
Or just a red clay robe with red clay wings,
And a red clay halo for my head?

Now Jordan’s banks they’re red and muddy,
And the rolling water is wide.
But I got no boat, so I’ll be good and muddy,
When I get to the other side.

And when I pass through the pearly gate,
Will my gown be gold instead?
Or just a red clay robe with red clay wings,
And a red clay halo for my head?

I’ll take the red clay robe with the red clay wings,
And a red clay halo for my head.

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