From Baseball to Soccer to Christ: A Tale of Two Vocations

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The Catholic Church can survive without a lot of things, but one thing it can’t exist without is a priest. Without a priest, there is no Eucharist, and without that, Christ is no longer physically present among us.

In the modern world, though, the last thing on most young men’s minds — even most Catholic men — is giving up their personal freedom and the idea of a wife and family for a lifetime serving Christ as a Catholic priest.

Obviously, not all priests are celibate — a small number of Catholic priests are married former Anglican or Lutheran ministers; and priests in the Eastern Rite may wed before ordination — but for the vast majority of priests in the Church, the discipline of celibacy remains.

But, married or not, all Catholic priests also have to be obedient to authority — whether it’s a bishop or the superior of a religious order — and in an age devoted to personal autonomy, that inability to pursue all your hopes and dreams in the way you please may be an equally challenging sacrifice.

Yet, we still have vocations. Some in the secular world think that the only reason a young man would become a priest is because he doesn’t have many other options (some of these folks also think the same about joining the military), but this is demonstrably untrue. And here are just two of many examples.

From Mustang News, out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, comes the story of Frater Matthew Desme, a member of the Norbertines of St. Michael’s Abbey in Orange County, California.

A former Cal Poly baseball player who looked to be headed to the major leagues, Grand Desme of Bakersfield, California  — Matthew is the name given to him as a Norbertine — turned away from pro sports to find greater satisfaction serving the Lord, and is on his way to the priesthood.

Here’s a few excerpts from the story (click here to read the whole thing; it’s long but well-written and fascinating):

Desme has clearly lost muscle off the 210-pound frame he kept during his playing days, but his jawline is sharp as a knife and he has maintained a look of lean athleticism. Though he occasionally visits the weight room in the back of St. Michael’s, his mind is far more active than his body nowadays, even in his free time. He has experimented with painting, calligraphy and sculpting, determined to see the beauty in art as well as in God. Studying French is his new recreational joy.

Though Desme was not involved with a Christian organization while at Cal Poly, save for an occasional appearance at the Newman Catholic Center, his faith remained the cornerstone of his decisions. Fireside talks with teammates occasionally delved into God and man’s place on His earth, and Schafer said he routinely prayed for his roommates. Desme became known around campus before he even took the field for the first time when he penned a letter titled “Jesus Loves Everyone” to the Mustang Daily.

In his letter, Desme admonishes a previous student for writing negatively about the church’s stance on homosexuality. His letter ends, “A point of advice: next time you write a column to express your hate towards something as great as the Catholic Church, please do some research to understand what is truly going on.

Peace be with you.

Grant Desme”

With God, everything was about love. It was the word Desme chose when asked to sum up all the teachings of Catholicism.

“That’s what it all flows from,” he said. “Christians believe that God is love, the inner life of the Trinity is love, the motivation for the incarnation, for God becoming man, is love. And the life of a Christian is to be a response to the love of God, poured out through baptism.”

Soccer player Chase Hilgenbrinck actually made it to the pros, playing in Chile and later for the New England Revolution of the MLS in 2008. But later that same year, he retired from soccer and entered the seminary.

From a story at ESPN:

The final Friday of September began, like virtually every day at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, in church. Chase Hilgenbrinck, clad in a gray polo shirt, black slacks and black shoes — standard wear for new seminarians — joined his 150 fellow aspiring priests for 7 a.m. Mass in Immaculate Conception Chapel. After a quick breakfast at the dining hall and an hour-long prayer seminar for first-year seminarians, Chase went back to his room to study.

It’s a single, sparsely decorated, with no private bathroom. The closet houses hanger after hanger of identical white and gray shirts, and black pants. The bookshelf is stocked with titles such as “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” “The Catholic Ideal: Exercise and Sports,” and “Rediscovering Catholicism.” There’s a crucifix in one corner of the window, a statue of the Virgin Mary in the other. A set of rosary beads dangles from a bedpost.

If not for the chair draped in a Clemson blanket, you wouldn’t have a clue about the occupant’s past.

All this is not entirely new to him, though. Chase has been a practicing Catholic his entire life. His parents, Mike (a regional sales manager for a fertilizer dealership) and Kim (an accountant with State Farm Insurance), brought him and his older brother, Blaise, to church each and every Sunday. Both sons served as altar boys at Holy Trinity Church in Bloomington, Ill. But eventually Chase begged his parents to let him quit, because he was tired of finding a fill-in every time he was away for a soccer tournament. “We look back and laugh about that now,” his father said.

Even as a teenager, people tended to flock to Chase for support and counsel. His mother recalls one particular instance, when a high school classmate who had gotten a girl pregnant came to their house, hoping to talk to Chase. “We were like, ‘Chase, you’re not old enough to be giving out advice on this kind of thing,'” his mother said. “‘This boy should be talking to an adult!'”

Hilgenbrinck was ordained a priest in his home diocese of Peoria, Illinois, on May 24, 2014.

Chase-Hilgenbrinck

While still a deacon, he did this video telling his story:

Pray for these young men — one on his way to ordination; one already there — and for all the men who courageously choose to answer God’s call. You never know where they come from … for all you know, one may be in your own family.

Images: Norbertines of St. Michael’s Abbey at Easter vespers, by Kate O’Hare; Twitter

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  • Athanasius

    Father Chase is an amazing priest; amazing story, amazing man. Praise God.