From Baseball to Priesthood and Back


– I found through
this experience that
we find joy in life not by doing what we want to do but it’s by following
the will of God. And that’s been a constant
strand through my whole life. – [Todd] Can’t you just feel it, the conflict is becoming
apparent in our culture. It reminds me of those
words of John Paul II. We’re now living in
the final confrontation between the gospel
and the anti-gospel, between the church
and the anti-church, between Christ and
the antichrist. And if we don’t choose
to know God’s word, to believe God’s word,
to follow God’s word we’re gonna be a sitting duck
for all kinds of confusion, all kinds of disorder. Those are really
important choices that
people have to make. – [Narrator] And these
choices are difficult. Who am I gonna marry? What kind of life
am I gonna live? How am I gonna raise my kids? What am I gonna do with my
time, my talent and my treasure? And I have to make
a choice today. Jesus says to each one of us, “I came that you might have
life and have it to the full.” The question is, do we want it? (dramatic music) – Welcome friends to another
week of The Choices We Face. I’m Peter Herbeck and
I’m delighted to be able to introduce to you a priest
who’s become a friend. A wonderful brother, his
name is Father Burke Masters. He’s from the Diocese of Joliet. He’s spent the last 12 years being the Vocation
Director for the Diocese and now he is the Director of
Evangelization and Catechesis. And one of the most
important things about him is he’s the
chaplain for the Cub’s. Welcome Father. – Thank you, good to
be here with you Peter. – I’m so glad you’re able
to be with us and we met, was it last year? A year ago or
something like that? – Yeah, we had a men’s
conference in Diocese of Joliet and you were the
key note speaker and Pete Burak came with you. And I loved what
you guys had to say and then I invited
both of you to come to our seminarian retreat
just last month so. – That was a delight,
that was a delight but I was very inspired
by what you said at the men’s conference and
how the men responded to you which is why I invited you
to come and be on the show. I’m so glad you’re able to come. – Thank you. – So, why don’t you share
with the listeners your store? Because it’s so inspiring
what God’s done in your life. – Yeah so, it’s not the
typical story to priesthood. You know, I wasn’t born into this very strong
Catholic family. In fact, my parents
were not Catholic. My dad was raised in the
United Church of Christ, my mother was raised Baptist. They went to church every
Wednesday, every Sunday. Both of their mother’s play
the organ in their churches. And when they got married, they got married in
southern Illinois and then moved to Joliet,
Illinois where I was born. And they said they
looked for a church but as it happens sometimes,
life got in the way and they just kind of
stopped going to church. So I grew up in, I would say, a Christian home but
we were unchurched. We would pray maybe
before we went to bed. And so people may say, how
did you become a priest? You know, so my dream was to
be a major league ball player. I remember distinctly my mom
bring me and my brothers, I have two older brothers. Very sports minded family, my
dad played college basketball and our family
revolved around sports. And one day my mom took my
brothers and I to Wrigley Field. I was about seven years old and I thought this is what
I want to do with my life. – The magic moment at Wrigley. – Yeah, everything just kind
of crystalized and said, I see myself out there one day. And little did I know
how that would happen. So I did all I could to become the best ball player I could be. I played basketball and golf and things like that but I
knew baseball was my thing. And both of my older
brothers went to the public high schools in
Joliet and being the youngest, I just thought I’d
follow their path. And one day my
parents surprised me, they sat me down at dinner
one night and they said, Burke you have two
options for high school. Joliet Catholic or
Providence Catholic, the two Catholic
schools in town. It surprised me
but I was actually kind of excited at the same time because they had the best
baseball programs in town. And that was my motivation, I knew I would get
a good education. And many of my friends
were going to Providence and so that’s where I
decided to go to high school. – Okay and so here
you are, walking into a Catholic high school
at 14 or 15 years old, what was that like? – It was a brand new world. I have one aunt who was
born and raised Catholic, she married my dad’s brother. And that was my only really
exposure to the Catholic church. I think vaguely I remember
going to Mass a couple times with her but it was a new world. So there were five
priests on staff there and I had never really
met priests before. There were seven
sisters teaching there, I had never met a sister before. They told us that even
though we weren’t Catholic, there was probably 5% of
the student population that wasn’t Catholic, we had
to take the theology courses and attend the
all school Masses. So I knew that going in but
I thought, I’ll endure that. And just promote my
own baseball career. – Right. – So I remember being
in Sister Margaret Ann’s freshman theology class
and I was very intrigued by what she was teaching
because it was all new and something was
touching my heart. And I remember she always
stood at the doorway of the classroom everyday
when we filed out of class. And one day I happened to be
the last one left in class, I gather my books and I look
up and she’s waiting for me. Now, I was an
extremely shy teenager and I had a hard
time looking people in the eye because
they always say, the eyes are the
windows to the soul. And I was afraid of what
they might see in there. So I grabbed my books,
put my head down, tried to walk by her
and she stopped me. She kind of lifted my
chin up and she said, Burke you’re searching
for something. I thought, how do I respond
to that at the age of 14. She was right but I didn’t
know how to articulate it. And so I tried to walk away
and she stopped me again. And she said, read this. And she gave me my first
Bible and she said, start reading the
gospel of Matthew. And so that night after baseball
practice, eating dinner, doing my homework,
I went to my room, my family didn’t know about it and I started reading the
scriptures for the first time in my life and the
story of Jesus Christ. And it touched something
deep in my heart. And everyday I started
reading more and more. And when I got to the part
about Jesus dying on the cross I thought, if we have a God
that loves us that much, I’m all in. And so, it reminds me today what Saint Augustine
said 1600 years ago. He said, “Lord we
were made for you and our hearts are restless
until they rest in you.” And that’s what was
true in my own life. Sister Margaret Ann said I
was searching for something and I was searching for someone and I found him in the
person of Jesus Christ. – What year of school was that? – That was my freshman year. – Oh, your freshman year. – Yeah so then, she
started teaching us about the Eucharist in that class too. And she said, what we receive
at Mass is the body, blood, soul and divinity
of Jesus Christ. And I thought, come on
I see bread and wine when I go to Mass, nothing else. And my friends would
reverently bow before receiving Communion at Mass and I never went forward
because I wasn’t Catholic. Everything changed
my junior year. I went on a retreat
with 20 guys. At the end of the
retreat there was a Mass with a priest who I didn’t know. And so, we were gathered
around the alter in this intimate setting
and when it came time for Communion instead
of us forming a line, he started going
around the circle. And I was kind of the
last one in the circle and I started feeling this
pressure as he came around to me because I didn’t
know what to do. I didn’t know to cross my
arms to ask for a blessing. So he said, the body of Christ
and I opened my mouth to say, I’m not Catholic. And no words came out but
in went my First Communion. And I say it was accidental
but it was God’s will because that moment
changed my life. I just felt the power of
God run through my body in a way that I had
never felt before. It was so powerful that
I went home that night and told my parents. I said, I have to join
the Catholic church. And they said, slow down. They had always been open
minded with my brothers. And then they said, Burke you can choose your
faith when you’re 18 years old. I was 17. They said, pray and study
and if at this time next year you want to be Catholic,
we’ll support you. And that’s what happened. I took one-on-one instructions with one of the priests
at the high school. The more I learned, the more
I wanted to be Catholic. And a week before I
graduated high school in the chapel at
Providence I was baptized, received my second Communion
and my Confirmation. And it was one of the
greatest days of my life but it wasn’t then
that I started thinking
about priesthood. I was so focused on my baseball. – Still on baseball. – Yeah. – Okay, so what happened
after graduation then? – So I received a
scholarship to play baseball down at Mississippi
State University where my dad actually
played college basketball. And I would say God
has a sense of humor. I grew up in Joliet which
is about 60% Catholic as a non-Catholic and then
as soon as I become Catholic I go to Mississippi
which is 2% Catholic. So, I’ve always been
in the minority. And on our baseball
team there was 40 guys and two of us were Catholic. And many of the guys
started asking me, you know, what do you Catholics believe and do you know
that you’re saved? And questions that I didn’t
know how to answer even though I had just had a good four
year Catholic education. I wasn’t really secure
it what I believed. And so I started
visiting other churches that they invited me to. I went to the
Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Pentecostal,
I tried them all because I was looking
for my spiritual home. And there was something
beautiful in every church. The preaching was often very
inspirational, great music but something kept
bringing me back to the Catholic church
and it was the Eucharist. And so I’d find myself
running back to Mass and when I’d receive
Communion then it was like, this is what feeds
my soul the most. And after about three months
of trying different churches I finally said, I’m called to
be Catholic and always will. – How did that affect
your relationship with the team members? – They were very
respectful, very respectful. They say, the other guy and
I would go to Mass together, we’d go to the Bible
study with the other guys. They would ask us
questions and challenge us but it was always respectful. And I think they
admired both of us because we were trying to live really good moral lives in the middle of college athletics
which isn’t always that way. – Right. – Yeah. – And now, Mississippi
State baseball that was top of the food
chain or close to it anyways. So what was your
career like there, what kind of a
team did you have? – Yeah, it was a
great experience. Most of the time I was
there we were ranked in the top 25 or top
ten in the country. I redshirted my first year
which is really challenging. Most of the freshman
redshirted there, which means you can practice
but you can’t play in the game but you still have four
years of eligibility. So that was tough to get
through but after my first year, I started for four years. Played third base
for three years and third base my last year. – Oh second, you
played second base? – I played second base,
that was my best position. And our third baseman was
also our closing pitcher. And so, whenever he
would come in to pitch, I’d move over to third base. – Okay. – And so, my junior year
we were loaded with talent. We were ranked first
or second all year and we got upset in
the regional tournament to go to the World
Series by North Carolina. A lot of the guys got drafted
that year, we were left with a lot of inexperienced
players my senior year but we really came
together as a team. And that year we
actually made it to the College World Series which was against
everybody’s expectations. And I had an experience in
that regional tournament where I got into the zone. I was four for five
in the first game, two for three in
the second game, six for six with a grand
slam in the third game. I was on fire and Most Valuable
Player for the tournament to get to the World
Series and I just thought, I’m gonna get drafted because the draft was
happening the next week. We got to the World
Series and I was terrible, wasn’t drafted. And I thought, what do I have to do to
prove that I can play. So, about a week later
after the World Series, we ended up finishing fifth
in the nation that year which was good, I got a
call from the White Sox. They said, we’ve had some
injuries in the minor leagues, we’re looking for
a middle infielder. Which was my best
position, second base and so I came to Notre Dam. I had a tryout there, the
next signed a contract with the White Sox and started my
professional baseball career. – So the dream was happening? – It was back alive. – Yeah. – And it only lasted a year. They said, Burke you
do everything well
and nothing great. You know, in baseball they
measure you by five tools and I measured well
in all of them. – What are those five tools,
just for our listeners. – Let’s see if I remember it. So its hitting for
average, hitting for power, fielding, running and. – Is it throwing? – And arm. – Arm, yeah. – Exactly, so I was
average to above average in everything but
nothing exceptional. And I honestly think
I could have made it. A lot of the guys that I
played with and against end up playing in the big leagues
like Frank Thomas, for example. Who’s in the Hall of
Fame for the White Sox. But I know now looking
back it was God’s will that He had a different plan. So, after my playing
career was done I worked as an actuary
for about 10 months. So, they’re numbers crunchers
for insurance companies. – Big shift. – Huge, I was used to being
on the field with people, outdoors and now I’m sitting behind a computer
eight hours a day. And I was making a lot of
money but I was bored to tears and I remember having a
conversation with my folks. I said, if this is what the
next 40 years of my life are gonna be like, it’s
gonna be miserable. And my dad being very
practical he said, Burke you’re gonna work
the rest of your life and if you’re gonna get
married like your brothers, you need to make money and this is a great job and
you’re crazy to give this up. My mother on the
other hand said, Burke yes you’re gonna
work the rest of your life but do something you enjoy so you look forward to
going to work everyday. And it was some
of the best advice I ever received because
I wasn’t enjoying it. And so I thought,
what do I enjoy doing. I love baseball and I
love being around people. So my new dream was, I’m
gonna become general manager of the Cubs or
White Sox one day. I never think small. I went to Ohio University, got my masters degree in
sports administration. That’s one of the best
programs in the country and from there got a job
with a minor league team in Illinois the
Kane County Cougars. And just like the players,
you have to work your way up the ladder in management and
that’s what was happening. And while I was working there
I started dating a young lady named Stephanie who I
thought this is the woman that I’m gonna marry. She fit everything
I was looking for. And she invited me to go
to Eucharistic Adoration for the first time in my life. Even though I’d been Catholic
about eight or nine years at that time, I’d never heard
of Eucharistic Adoration. And so we went and
that first night I didn’t know how to pray so
I just kind of read my Bible. But we committed to go every
Tuesday night for an hour of prayer and I went from
being afraid of the silence because in the silence
who do we encounter but God and I was afraid of
what He was gonna tell me. And we encounter ourselves
and I really wasn’t living the life that I knew I
should’ve been living. But she brought me
into this environment and I had to face
God and myself. And after awhile I started
to hear this inner voice say, Burke I want you to be a priest. And I said, I don’t
want to be a priest I want to be the general
manager of the Cubs one day, I want to marry Stephanie, I want to make
millions of dollars. But He continually
called me, gently, wasn’t forced in any way. And then people started
coming to me saying, Burke I think you’d
make a good priest. So they were confirming
this inner call. So, I have a long
talk with Stephanie. I said, Steph I think God may
be calling me to be a priest. And she said, if this
is your call from God, I can’t compete with God
so you have to try it. So, I went to Mundelein
Seminary in 1997, fully thinking I
wouldn’t like it, I’d go back to
Stephanie and my plans. And I felt peace and joy,
fruits of a Holy Spirit and I thought, this is what God
wants me to do with my life. – Fantastic, Father we’re
gonna take a little break. And come back, there’s a
lot more to this story. We got to get to the Cubs
before it’s all done. – Yes. – There’s a lot
between here and there, so friends we’ll be
back in just a minute. – [Todd] A genuine engagement
with the new evangelization begins with the Priest’s
heart, the Deacon’s heart, the Lay Ecclesial Minister’s
heart, formed in contemplation which then leads outward
towards pastoral charity. Drawing all people to
the heart of Christ. At Sacred Heart we have
an outstanding faculty. Four of our faculty
members in fact, have served on
Pontifical councils. – The Catholic
life isn’t supposed to be sort of a putting in
your time in church on Sundays. It’s supposed to be a life
of living union with the Lord out of which mission and
holiness really unfolds. – It goes beyond you know,
getting out of the comfort zone. You know, getting
out of our confines and really getting to the
people wherever they’re at. – If a bishop were considering
sending a priest to this Ecclesial program, two
things I’d want him to know. One, that I take a very
strong personal interest in the program and I
monitor it carefully and I’m confident that
it’s a solid program. And two, that if a priest
is coming into this Diocese to live he would be welcomed
and not just given an opportunity for study
but a chance to live a solid priestly life in
this Christian community. – [Todd] When I walk these
halls I see future Evangelists and our goal here is to form
and shape these strong hearts that won’t wilt under the
midday sun of ministry. But that will rejoice
through the suffering, will rejoice through the
sacrifice and bring anew, bring a fresh, this eternal
message of the word of God. (upbeat music) – Welcome back friends, we’re here with
Father Burke Masters. And so you were at Mundelein,
you found peace being there. You just knew the fruit
of the spirit was starting to merge in you, you knew this
was God’s call for your life. – Yeah and I never
really looked back. And the funny story is, a few
months into seminary one of my best friends Matt
called me and he said, Burke are you happy? I said, Matt I’ve never
been happier in my life. There was a pause
and he said, good because I was wondering if I
could start dating Stephanie? And people say what did you say. And I knew he would
be good to her and I knew I had
found my calling. And I said, Matt you
have my blessing. So they started dating, four
years later got married. I celebrated their wedding, it was the second wedding
I celebrated as a priest. And then I baptized all
three of their little girls. And I found through this
experience, we find joy in life not by doing what we want to do but it’s by following
the will of God. And that’s been a constant
strand through my whole life. And so obviously, I was
ordained a priest in 2002. I spent four years in Saint
Mary’s in West Chicago which was a bilingual perish. The bishop thought I was already
bilingual which I wasn’t. So I had to learn
Spanish really quickly which is a wonderful,
difficult experience. And then 2006 to 2018 I
was the Vocation Director. Just a couple weeks
ago I started this work in Evangelization
and Catechesis. But one of the great
stories is five years ago, I got a call from Ray McKenna who’s the head of the
Catholic Athletes For Christ. And he said, Father Burke we
hear that you played baseball this is perfect that you
live in the Chicago land area because we need a Catholic
chaplain for the Chicago Cubs. And so you know, my preference
at that time in my life probably would’ve
been the White Sox. I live on the South side, I played in the White
Sox organization. I wasn’t a Cub fan at the time but I have become
a diehard Cub fan. So what does that mean? So, what I do now for the
last five years is I go to Wrigley field on Sunday
home games twice a month in section 209 we have Mass. For the Cubs, the visiting team and any employees that
want to come to Mass. It’s at 9:30 so it’s
before the gates open. And there at the Mass
might be somebody who makes $10 million dollars as a
ball player sitting next to somebody who sells
popcorn at the game. And it’s really obvious to me how God levels
the playing field. That God doesn’t care
how much money you make or what your job title is but God cares about
what’s in your heart. After Mass then I go down
into the locker room. I have a Bible
study with players and then I just make
myself available. If anybody needs to talk, they
have a really nice cafeteria there which is a great
place to meet people. And it’s amazing
what has happened over these last five years, 2016 of course the Cubs
win the World Series. That spring I went down to spring training
just for a couple days because my full-time work is
back in the Diocese of Joliet. – But you’re still
living the dream somehow. – Still living the dream. So, I go to spring training Joe
Maddon, a good Catholic guy, comes up to me and he says, Father Burke do you want to
practice with the team tomorrow? And I said, are you serious? So next day, I’m in full
uniform, I’m out on the field and there’s Bryant
and Rizzo and Russell and it was the whole
starting line-up and me. And so during batting practice, I go in the outfield to
shag balls with the players. And I’m talking with Kyle
Hendricks, one of the pitchers. And during the
conversation tears start to flow down my face. And my first thought was,
there’s no crying in baseball. But my second thought
immediately was,
God you’re amazing. It was like God was
saying, this was your dream to be a major league
baseball player but now you’re living
my dream as a priest and you get to do it
in the major leagues. So here the whole time my
dream was to be a player on that field and God
wanted me on that field but in a completely
different way. And so, my big message to people when I was working in vocations
and now in evangelization is surrender your gifts
and your life to God. God doesn’t take
away what you love, he actually purifies
it and enhances it. Never in my wildest dreams
would I’ve imagined this and then in the World
Series ESPN called me to be interviewed
before game six and they asked me to give
a blessing on the air. And so I prayed that
they would not get hurt, that they’d play to the
best of their ability. I didn’t pray they’d win because I don’t think
God cares who wins. – He’s not a Cubby fan? – He might be now, I don’t know. So at the end of the
interview they said, will you come back
tomorrow if they win. And I said, sure. So they won game six,
before game seven I go back down to Wrigley
Field for the interview. And they said, now Father I’m
not saying because you prayed they won but you prayed and
they won so let’s do it again. And so they did and
of course they broke 108 year curse that year. And just to be apart of
that was a surreal moment. And God just keeps surprising
me with different things and I can’t wait to
see what happens next. – I remember just talking
with you at one point you talked about how the
Lord did some powerful things through you with your
mother and father too. – Yes, yes so in my
first year of seminary my mom was diagnosed with
stage IV lung cancer. And so she was actually
going through Chemotherapy which is aggressive. She came home one
day, we were watching the major league baseball
all-star game on TV. And she started hemorrhaging and she actually
died in my arms. That was a horrific moment and
I remember as the paramedics arrived and tried to revive
her I saw her car outside, I saw her purse on the
counter and it really hit me, my mother comes face
to face with God. God’s not asking her what
kind of car did you drive or how much money did you make, which we spend so much
time and energy focused on. But I believe God was asking
her, how much did you love? What Jesus said, what’s
the greatest Commandment, “love the Lord, your God
with your whole heart, mind and soul and love
your neighbor as yourself.” And so I feel my mothers
presence with me. She wasn’t there the day I was
ordained but she is with me. And just five years ago, my dad and my now stepmom
joined the Catholic church. And I never thought we’d be
able to share that together, the Eucharist. So, it’s amazing. – Well, that’s a
beautiful, beautiful story. So when he came into
the Catholic church, did he get confirmed
and all that? Is that part of the process? – Yes, so he was
baptized already so he received his First
Communion and Confirmation. – Did you give him his
First Communion or were you? – I was his sponsor. – Oh, you were his sponsor. – One of my best
friends, a priest, gave him his First Communion and I was able to sponsor
him and my stepmom. – Father, thank you so much. – You’re welcome. – It was a fantastic story. And friends, I hope you heard something
for your own heart today. That God has a plan for your
life and He’s called you to love Him with all your
heart, soul, mind and strength and He’ll lead you to
your hearts desire. I’d like to offer you this
free booklet that Ralph Martin wrote called Mary’s
Mission, Our Response. And following the
footsteps of Mary, following the footsteps
the disciples, following your father’s
footsteps in this simple path. Challenging path
sometimes in suffering but the simple path to
move with all our heart, soul, mind and strength
and a relationship with Jesus who’s gonna
bring us home to the Father. God bless you. – [Ralph] At times of
great crisis for the church and for humanity, God has
sent a very special messenger. When the new world is not
responding to the gospel, He sent Mary at Guadalupe. When atheism was aggressively
growing in Europe, He sent Mary at Lourdes and the
living waters began to flow. When perhaps the greatest
crisis began to unfold, the domination of the world
by an atheistic materialism, which is still growing,
He sent Mary at Fatima. The world is again in danger,
the church is again confused and she is here
again to help us. I’ve written a booklet about her and her role and her mission. Today, we’d like
to give it to you at no cost just for the asking. Go to our website
renewalministries.net and we’ll send it
right off to you. – [Narrator] If you were at
Venice Beach in California and took one grain
of sand to the base of Mount Everest in Asia. Then climbed Mount Everest
and placed it on the top then traveled back to Venice
Beach and continued to do that until the beach was empty,
eternity would’ve just begun. This life is short, the
next one is forever. Where will you spend eternity? Choose Heaven, choose God. Everywhere we turn
there’s division. Our world is fractured,
broken, what’s missing? – [Announcer] It’s God,
in Him we find our rest. This life is short, the
next one is forever. Choose joy, choose peace,
choose Heaven, choose God. (soft gospel music)

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