Chicagoland

Cubs chaplain cares for ‘spiritual needs’ of players

By Joyce Duriga
November 14, 2016

Cubs chaplain cares for ‘spiritual needs’ of players

Father Burke Masters (center), the Chicago Cubs’ Catholic chaplain, poses with Ray McKenna, (left) founder of Catholic Athletes for Christ, and Cubs manager Joe Maddon during the Cubs spring training in March 2016 at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona. (Ed Mailliard/Topps)
Father Burke Masters (right) poses with Miguel Montero, the catcher for the Chicago Cubs. Masters participated in practice with the Cubs during spring training in Mesa, Arizona in March 2016. (Ed Mailliard/Topps)
Father Burke Masters, Chicago Cubs’ chaplain, takes part in a practice with players during spring training in March 2016 at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona. Manager Joe Maddon invited Masters to practice with the team. (Ed Mailliard/Topps)

When Father Burke Masters accepted God’s call to become a priest, he thought he was giving up baseball forever. 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 Masters, who serves as the vocations director for the Diocese of Joliet.

Four years ago, Catholic Athletes for Christ reached out to 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.

“Through the grapevine of priests they heard that I played baseball,” Masters said. “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 me.”

Before Sunday home games, Masters holds a 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.

Masters plans to approach Cubs owner Tom Ricketts to see if a chapel can be incorporated into the renovations at Wrigley Field. Some newer ball parks have non-denominational chapels inside so it’s not a new idea. The Cubs also have non-denominational Baseball Chapel chaplains who could also use the space.

After 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,’” Masters said. Maddon is also a practicing Catholic. While with the players 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” (the latter referring 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).

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.”

Masters had dreams of becoming a Major League baseball player himself. That dream led his parents to send him to Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox, Illinois, because of its baseball program. Raised a Christian, Masters converted to Catholicism during his senior year in high school.

He went on to play baseball for Mississippi State University, and his team won the College World Series. When he wasn’t drafted after college, Masters pursued a business career and for a time worked for the Kane County Cougars in Geneva, Illinois, 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 their vocation director in 2006.

After becoming a priest, there was a part of Masters that asked God what was in it for him. He gave up baseball and a girlfriend and wanted to know what he would get in return. It wasn’t until 10 years later when he got the call from Catholic Athletes for Christ that God showed him what he had planned.

Masters said God’s grace really hit home with him this March when he went to Cubs’ spring training and Maddon invited him to practice with the team.

“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 their vocations. When we’re generous with God we can’t outdo him in generosity, Masters tells them. “He’s going to bless us in ways we never imagined.”

Father Masters has a blog at frburke23.wordpress.com.

Topics:

  • baseball
  • cubs
  • chicago sports
  • burke masters
  • catholic athletes for christ

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