CHICAGO — When Father Burke Masters accepted God's
call to become a priest, he thought he was giving up baseball forever.
"What I pray for is that they all play to their ability. Honestly, I don't think God cares who wins," Father Masters said. "If everybody plays to their ability, usually the best team wins."
Never did he dream that
God would take him back to the field — let alone as chaplain to the Chicago Cubs as they make a historic run
to win the World Series, hoping to break a 108-year drought.
"Never in my wildest
dreams did I think I would do this with the Cubs and be a priest," said
Father Masters, who is vocations director for the Diocese of Joliet.
Four years ago, Catholic
Athletes for Christ reached out to Father Masters when looking for a priest to
volunteer as a chaplain for the Cubs. The goal of Catholic Athletes is to
provide a network of sports-oriented clergy and laypeople to serve Catholic
athletes, coaches and staff.
grapevine of priests they heard that I played baseball," he told the
Catholic New World, newspaper of the Chicago Archdiocese. "The two things
that I love to combine in my ministry is faith and sports, so this was a great
opportunity. And having played baseball, this couldn't get much better for
For the first time in 71
years, the Cubs' ballpark, Wrigley Field, was set to host Game 3 in the World
Series between Chicago and the Cleveland Indians. The series was tied 1-1 as of
Before Sunday home games,
Father Masters celebrates Mass at Wrigley Field for both teams, staff and those
who work at the stadium. For a time, they had Mass in the family area inside
the stadium, but construction moved them out to the stands in section 209. More
than 30 people come to Mass before games.
Father Masters plans to
approach Cubs owner Tom Ricketts to see if a chapel can be incorporated into
the renovations at Wrigley Field. Some newer ballparks have nondenominational
chapels inside so it's not a new idea. The Cubs also have nondenominational
Baseball Chapel chaplains who could use the space, too.
After Father Masters
celebrates Mass — or during home
games that don't occur on Sundays —
he goes down to the dugout and locker room and just makes himself available.
"Joe Maddon has
really opened the doors for me. He told me, 'The presence of a priest changes
the environment,'" Father Masters said. Maddon also is a practicing
Catholic. While with the players, Father Masters asks them if they have prayer
intentions, how their families are.
"It really opens up
some nice conversations. Even though they may not be attending Mass, they know
that somebody is trying to care for their spiritual needs," he said.
He wears his black
clerics when he's at the park so he's easily identifiable. As he walks through
the stands, the fans often ask him if he's praying for the team, if he blessed
the players and, of course, did he get rid of the "curse." That
refers to the alleged 1945 curse put on the team by Billy Goat Tavern owner
Billy Sianis after the team asked him to remove his goat from the park.
Father Masters says he
doesn't pray that the Cubs win —
even though he wants them to.
"What I pray for is
that they all play to their ability. Honestly, I don't think God cares who
wins," he said. "If everybody plays to their ability, usually the
best team wins."
Father Masters, who
became a Catholic during his senior year in high school, had dreams of becoming
a major league baseball player himself. He played in high school and played
baseball for Mississippi State University. His team won the College World
But he wasn't drafted
after college, so he pursued a business career and for a time worked for the
Kane County Cougars in Geneva, a minor league affiliate of the Florida Marlins.
The call to the
priesthood began to get stronger so he entered Mundelein Seminary in 1997. He
was ordained for the Diocese of Joliet in 2002 and became vocation director in
This past March, when he
went to Cubs' spring training —
and Maddon invited him to practice with the team — he got to live some of that baseball dream.
"It was while I was
on the field — and I had tears
in my eyes — that it really
became clear that God was saying, 'This was your dream but now you're living
mine.' I had this small plan. God wanted me to be a priest and stay in
baseball, which has been so humbling."
He uses this example when
he talks to young people about discerning a vocation, telling them that when
we're generous with God, we can't outdo him in generosity. "He's going to
bless us in ways we never imagined."
Father Masters has a blog
Duriga is editor of Catholic New World, newspaper of the
Archdiocese of Chicago.