Chugging Along With Joy and Enthusiasm—Father Armand Mathew

Appeared in Brownsville Herarld and Valley Morning Star on June 9, 2013

By Lisa Mitchell-Bennett

One of my favorite people to hang out with is a ninety-year old priest. I don’t see him often, but when I have a chance to have lunch with him I treasure the time. I never feel like I’m talking to an old man. Maybe that’s because I’m getting closer to “old” myself, but I think it has more to do with the fact that he is so enlightened, energetic and inspiring. He’s really “with-it”! He has a hearing aide, yet he is one of the best listeners I know. And he cares so deeply, not about his own life, rather about his community, the world and specifically those who are most vulnerable. He is the most appreciative person I know. When I think of Father Armand Mathew, an old show tune always plays in my head (from Annie Get Your Gun).

“Got no mansion, got no yacht,
Still I’m happy with what I got.
I’ve got the sun in the morning
And the moon at night!”

Father Mathew lived through the harsh reality of the Great Depression.  He was the youngest of ten siblings.  “I was just a boy, seven years old when the disaster hit but old enough to be aware.  My father was not Rockefeller rich but he had bucks.  We went from a lot to nothing overnight.   In spite of that, my father and mother and older siblings, at considerable inconvenience and sacrifice, would always respond to individuals and families in need.  I remember discussions around our dinner table about the responsibility incumbent on any decent person to help others, and the joy and satisfaction of having done it.  All of this had a profound effect on me.  It is the single reason why I have been able to sustain passion for social justice and serving the common good.”

Mathew is well known locally for his work on Kid’s Voting, civic engagement and has served on boards of numerous non-profits addressing everything from health to housing.

“My life as an Oblate priest has been enchanted.  I have received a 10-star education, with the opportunity to study two years in Rome.  I have had the opportunity to travel a lot, worked in seminary, served in foreign missions, done rewarding pastoral ministry, and have more recently enjoyed years of rich association with UTB/TSC.  I could live a thousand years and never come close to meriting the love, friendship, respect, trust and generosity that I have received as a priest.”

When I ask him what advice he gives to young people, he is candid with his answer:
“Life is precious.  Enjoy it fully, but protect it.  Don’t live recklessly, foolishly, mindlessly. Physical sex is only a part of God’s magnificent gift of human sexuality, the force in us that drives everything we say and do. Don’t treat it as if it was some kind of throwaway toy. The consequences of doing this are quite serious and could cause a lifetime of regret.”

On the subject of education he is passionate. “Take full advantage of all opportunities to be educated.  Study hard; always do the best you can with what you have where you are.”  Mathew is himself a lifelong learner. He enjoys challenging questions and learning from young people. He adds, “Whenever possible, travel to new places, get to know new cultures, meet new people, do new things.”

I asked him how he stays so enthusiastic after so many years. “Basically I believe it is a question of attitude: awareness, awe, appreciation.  Life is so wonderful.   We walk around every day in our incredible bodies with incredible powers to do incredible things:  see, hear, speak, touch, smell, remember, imagine, create, think, choose, and decide.   Surrounded by marvelous nature that sustains our lives, brings us joy and lifts our spirits.  Then all the Buck Rogers stuff I grew up with, thinking it was all fantasy and here we are living it:  technology, space travel, electronic communication, Star Trek stuff we can’t even imagine becoming reality in the near future. No matter how long one has been on the planet, how could one ever lose enthusiasm for all of this?”

The song continues to play in my head:
“Sunshine gives me a lovely day,
Moonlight gives me the Milky Way.
Got no checkbooks, got no banks,
Still, I’d like to express my thanks.
I’ve got the sun in the morning
And the moon at night.”

At age 90, Father Mathew has no intention of retiring from serving others. “As long as I’m mobile, have my wits about me (though there are some who vigorously say it ‘ain’t so’), still have some gas in the tank, I’ll keep chugging along with joy, enthusiasm and gratitude.” Tu Salud ¡Si Cuenta! (Your Health Matters!)