Harrison Butker, a rising star in the NFL, is a tremendous witness for the faith in the midst of a secular obsession

Harrison Butker serves at Latin Mass

“Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house. So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:15–16).

Facing the challenges of a changing National Football League, many players run afoul of the new sensibilities which prevail. One such example is Drew Brees, whose comments on the flag and associated activism were rebuked by celebrities across the internet. He surrendered quietly with a ritual apology and was forgiven. Others boldy live their true vocation to holiness, without any regard for their milieu. Knight of Columbus Harrison Butker, having completed his fourth year in the NFL (where he ranks second all-time in field goal conversion percentage to fellow Catholic Justin Tucker), has taken over the recently retired Philip Rivers’s role as a witness to the universal call to holiness, saying: “striving to be saints, we’re all called to holiness, and we’re all called to live on that path.”

In a 2019 EWTN interview, Butker revealed the story of his return to God, led by his teammate Grant at Georgia Tech and culminating in receiving the Sacrament of Confession. What stands out the most from the interview is how he maintained an authentic search for the truth even at his lowest point, just as Saint Augustine did. This attitude of spiritual honesty sets a great example for anyone seeking happiness. Furthermore, Grant’s willingness to answer Butker’s tough, deep questions is also inspiring as a model of true friendship. Grant invited his teammate to go to Confession, and this was “the moment that changed everything…. I felt like I was Harrison in every part of my life.” Butker’s return to the faith is thus a convergence of three necessary factors: primarily the grace of God, but also Butker’s conscience and Grant’s authentic friendship. His story serves as a beautiful example for everyone, wherever they are on their pilgrim journey to God.

Butker now serves the Traditional Latin Mass every Sunday before he puts on his pads and helmet for the opening kickoff. He remarks, “Middle-of-the-road Catholicism is the way to keep everybody happy. But young people want something noble and beautiful. This stood the test of time for 1,500 years. It isn’t about what songs can get someone excited… this has lasted 1,500 years, it’s worthy.” The Latin Mass’s unique appeal is a symptom of the aesthetic drought of our current age. Butker, as so many others, recognizes the beautiful wisdom of the tradition that has persevered throughout the centuries “because it’s so different from the world.” He comments on the communion with the saints that this Mass brings him to, spotlighting the call to be in the world but not of it.

Butker’s decision to live a unity of life, whereby everything in his life is directed toward God, is one of the most important elements of his apostolic witness. The circumstances of his life do not dictate his relationship with God, but rather he finds God in those same circumstances and seeks to love God better. He elaborated on this in a virtual conference with the Knights of Columbus: “Outside of the bright lights of the stadium, with the fans and the notoriety that come with being an NFL player, the greatest impact that I will make with my time on this earth is remaining dedicated to my primary vocation—helping my family get to heaven.” When asked if he prayed to win the Super Bowl, he countered, “No, I pray to be a good husband and father.” For Butker, the NFL is not the telos of his life, in clear contrast with players whose future retirement remains uncertain even in (relatively) old age, such as Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. This refusal to allow his work to take over his life clearly defies our modern culture of work, where life is the means to work and not the end. In the EWTN interview, he confessed, “I played up a different person for different crowds…like a fragmented person.” Now, Butker has found peace in his recovered faith and purpose.

Zef Crnkovich is a junior studying Classics and PLS. He loves watching beautiful, uplifting movies with friends. Please send movie recs and commentary to jcrnkovi@nd.edu.