Evangelized by Beauty: NFL Kicker Harrison Butker Makes Encounters with Christ in the Liturgy His Main Goal
This past February, an article by Trent Beattie ran in the National Catholic Register detailing the strong Catholic faith of Los Angeles Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein. But Zuerlein isn’t the only NFL kicker who places his Catholic faith first in his life. Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker, a native of Decatur, Georgia, has been very open on social media and in public lately about his own love of the Church—particularly rooted in a love of the Sacred Liturgy.
Like many young Catholics today, Butker’s devotion to the Catholic faith wasn’t well-established in his high school or early college years. Though raised in a Catholic family, Butker said that it wasn’t until later during his time as a student at Georgia Tech that the faith became meaningful to him. Butker describes how experiencing Masses at the Catholic Center gave him an impression of Catholicism he had never had before.
“There was reverence,” he said, “It didn’t feel like we just made this up. There is tradition in our liturgy. It is set apart from the world.”
Butker also credits his new appreciation of the faith to the preaching and ministry of Father Joshua Allen, the Georgia Tech campus chaplain. “He didn’t shy away from Catholic truths,” Butker said. “He spoke in a charitable way, but in a way that made you hear the truth. You heard what the Catholic Church teaches and why.”
On arriving in Kansas City, Butker made it a priority to find a parish that could keep his newly found love of Catholicism alive. Though he lives just outside of Kansas City, KS, Butker quickly claimed St. Mary’s in Independence, MO—a drive across state lines and forty minutes from his house in Overland Park, KS—as his new spiritual home.
“I was googling Mass times and looked at diocesan parishes with the Latin Mass,” he said, “because I thought if they are offering the Latin Mass, I know the liturgy was going to be done well.”
When asked about why the liturgy needs to be reverent, Butker said, “The summit of our faith is the Eucharist. That’s what makes us Catholic. You become Catholic because you believe in the Real Presence. A priest who celebrates the liturgy well believes what he is doing.”
Butker is preparing to enter his third season with the Chiefs and, along with his wife Isabelle and their newborn son, James, he still claims St. Mary’s as his parish. But Butker has found that he no longer wishes to simply attend the Sunday Mass.
“I’ve noticed that it is very difficult for priests to have time to teach and coordinate altar servers. There was a need to have boys and young men to serve, so I volunteered. Now I work with Father Matthew [Bartulica] to coordinate the servers at Mass. All these boys are just finding out about the Mass and tradition and they are really liking it.”
Recently, Butker has forged a friendship with Father Shawn Tunink, the parochial vicar of St. Michael’s in Leawood, KS—just a few minutes from the Butker family home. Butker discovered that Father Shawn had been celebrating the Extraordinary Form privately and offered to serve his Masses, which were celebrated in the church but without any public announcement being made. News began to spread by word of mouth, though, and within a few weeks a sizable group had found themselves at St. Michael’s on Monday evening.
In fact, only four months since the Monday Masses began, Butker helped organize and serve the first Solemn Mass in the Extraordinary Form ever offered at St. Michael’s. The Mass was on the Feast of the Annunciation this past March, and the attendance went from their usual crowd of forty to over three-hundred fifty persons, including a full choir which sang William Byrd’s “Mass for Four Voices.”
During the football season, Butker is not always able to attend Sunday Mass in a parish setting, but he has been working with the Chief’s chaplain, Father Richard Rocha, to provide more beautiful and prepared Masses for the Catholic coaches and players each Saturday evening at the team hotel.
“It is difficult in that context for the other guys to see this as a sacrifice,” he said. “It is important that we see beauty.”
Looking ahead, Butker hopes to continue to promote the Sacred Liturgy in the Kansas City area, but as a new father, he is also taking his duties as a parent seriously and has been building a veritable library of books on theology to educate himself and his wife further in the faith.
“You can witness through your life, but you also need to witness through catechesis, which comes through education,” he said. “And, as the father of the family it’s my responsibility to pass on the truths of the faith to my children.”
Image of Harrison Butker in his Kansas City Chiefs uniform courtesy of Steve Sanders.