We received wonderful news this week that a dear friend gave birth to a healthy baby boy on Wednesday morning. His arrival is especially joyful to Tony and I, as we were recently asked to be the child’s godparents.
It is such an honor to be asked to be a godparent, and yet I don’t think many people fully understand the commitment they are making when they stand next to the baptismal font and agree to help raise that adorable baby into a faithful Catholic adult.
It’s not just picking out a special gift for the big day, sending a check on the child’s birthday and showing up at the First Holy Communion and Confirmation parties, though I certainly enjoy all those things. In trying to find information on how to godparent, most of what I found were gift suggestion guides. I guess to be a godparent you need to be rich? And the next most common question was people asking if the godparents they selected had to be Catholic. Perhaps there’s just not enough practicing Catholics to fill the need for godparents? Maybe cutting cake, shooting video, or holding a candle while cradling a newborn are things anyone can do regardless of their religious beliefs????
Now it has been stated…that godparents take upon themselves the duties of a tutor. Consequently they are bound to watch over their godchildren when there is need for them to do so: for instance when and where children are brought up among unbelievers. But if they are brought up among Catholic Christians, the godparents may well be excused from this responsibility, since it may be presumed that the children will be carefully instructed by their parents. If, however, they perceive in any way that the contrary is the case, they would be bound, as far as they are able, to see to the spiritual welfare of their godchildren. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica III-67-8:
Clearly, godparents have a role in making sure their godchild is raised in the Catholic faith. If your godchild is being raised by parents actively practicing their faith, your role will be as an understudy. However, should you be asked to become the godparent to a child who you know will not be instructed in the faith, that child’s spiritual wellbeing now rests entirely on your shoulders. Are you willing to pray fervently for that child and his or her parents? To point out the truths of the faith when everyone around that child calls it lies? To do as much as you are able to make sure that child attends Mass, CCD and receives all his or her sacraments? Can I keep asking uncomfortable questions?
When asked by a friend or family member, it’s so easy to say, “Yes!” to the title of godmother or godfather. Why, it’s an offer you can’t refuse right? But like the sacrament of marriage, which starts with a happy wedding day, baptism creates a spiritual bond between the godchild and godparent, that lasts long after the party is over and the white gown outgrown. Traditionally, this spiritual relationship between godparent and godchild was even an impediment to marriage.
As a parent, you’re choosing someone to be a lifelong spiritual role model to your child. That person might not be a sibling, cousin or childhood best friend, as much as you may want to choose them. As a godparent, you’re accepting a lifelong commitment to be a top-notch Catholic role model. Just because your sibling, cousin or childhood best friend asks you, doesn’t mean you need to accept. Especially if you know that child will not be raised in the faith. Are you ready to answer for that soul when pressed at the pearly gates?
Before all others, parents are bound to form their children, by word and example, in faith and in christian living. The same obligation binds godparents and those who take the place of parents. Canon 774.2
It’s a lot more than helping to dress a baby on a special day and smile for pictures. I try to pray daily for my godchildren, but I’ll admit, I sometimes forget. I worry about their religious instruction and whether or not I should do, say or pray more. In hindsight, I over-analyze our choices for godparents. Do they understand the significance of their role? Are they concerned about whether or not my child will make it to heaven? I can only leave my worries in God’s hands.
For now, I’m very happy. Being a godparent is all the joy of having a baby with none of the pain, bleeding or boob issues. (I mean if it was my new baby, I couldn’t even type “boob” without letting down and soaking the keyboard.) I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t picking out religious trinkets and clever onesies for the lad, but more importantly, I’m looking forward to the day when he joins Christ’s Church …if just so I can stop worrying about limbo.
For more great information on the role of the godparent click here.