Catholic Voices - Called to the Cubs

  • Written by Father Burke Masters
  • Published in Catholic Voices
Father Burke Masters (center) with Ray McKenna, the founder of Catholic Athletes for Christ (at left) and Cubs manager Joe Maddon (at right). Photo: CNS photo/Ed Mailliard, courtesy Topps/Father Burke Masters Father Burke Masters (center) with Ray McKenna, the founder of Catholic Athletes for Christ (at left) and Cubs manager Joe Maddon (at right). Photo: CNS photo/Ed Mailliard, courtesy Topps/Father Burke Masters

How God turned a Protestant baseball player into the Catholic 
chaplain for the World Series champs

Priesthood has been an unlikely and amazing journey for me. Although my parents were not Catholic, they sent me to a Catholic high school because it had the best baseball program in town and my dream was to play in the major leagues. In high school, I encountered Jesus in the Eucharist and was baptized Catholic a week before my graduation.

I went on to play baseball at Mississippi State University, where I had the opportunity to play in the 1990 College World Series. I had a very short stint in professional baseball, then received a master’s degree in sports administration and started working in minor league baseball, with the new dream of becoming a major league general manager.

God is full of surprises

I loved my job in baseball. I also started dating someone I thought might become my wife — I always thought my vocation was to be married. However, it was during eucharistic adoration that I heard God’s call to become a priest. I entered the seminary in 1997.

The night before I was ordained a priest, in 2002, I remember asking God, “What’s in it for me? I’ve given up baseball and my girlfriend, everything that I love, to follow you.” I was so focused on myself and what I was going to get out of priesthood. All I heard God say that night in prayer was: “Trust me.”

God is full of surprises. I served for four years in a predominantly Spanish-speaking parish. I struggled with the language and almost gave up, but after four years I was bilingual. The Latino community so touched my heart that I want to spend the rest of my priesthood in bilingual ministry.

When Bishop J. Peter Sartain arrived in the Joliet Diocese in 2006, he named me the vocation director. I have found great joy walking with young men as they discern God’s will in their lives, and God has blessed us with 42 current seminarians, the most we’ve had in more than 40 years.

Father Burke Masters
Father Burke Masters

Called to the Cubs

Four years ago, I received a phone call from Catholic Athletes for Christ, a group formed to take care of the spiritual needs of professional athletes. They asked me to be the Catholic chaplain for the Chicago Cubs. Though I was not a Cubs fan, I happily accepted. Since 2013, I have celebrated Mass at Wrigley Field for Sunday home games. It is beautiful to see all-star catcher Miguel Montero at Mass sitting next to a popcorn vendor. God does not care about job titles or money. He cares about our hearts. In his eyes, we are all his beloved children.

Last year was amazing, not only because the Cubs won the World Series for the first time since 1908, but also because manager Joe Maddon invited me to practice with the team at spring training. During the practice, I had tears in my eyes — I felt God was telling me, “This was your dream, to be a major league ballplayer, but you are living my dream as a priest.” I have learned that we cannot outdo God in generosity. Give to him everything that we have and he will multiply it a hundredfold.

God’s ways are not our ways. God called me from being a Protestant baseball player to be a Catholic priest to help Catholics appreciate the beauty of this faith. I’ve also been converted in another way: I am now a Cubs fan.

Father Burke Masters is the vocation director for the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois, and Catholic chaplain for the Chicago Cubs. He will lead a retreat for young adults at the Archbishop Brunett Retreat Center at the Palisades April 7–9.

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Northwest Catholic - April 2017