In honor of Rachel Marie’s joining the Body of Christ on Sunday, July 22nd, I’ve included an article below that was originally published in Canticle magazine. Being a godparent is not only an honor – it’s a lifelong duty. I know I gleaned some insight on how to be a better godparent (once I am honored with this role) from my research for this article. May it help you bring your current or future godchildren closer to Christ as well…
From the living example of my own devout parents to the images of saints depicted on the holy cards I stash in the pages of my dog-eared Bible, I have been blessed with a cadre of prayer warriors fighting on my behalf and helping me along my faith journey.
My godmother, Aunt Nean, has been more to me than just a figurehead posed in the old photographs documenting my baptism. In a letter I received on the eve of my wedding day, my godmother Aunt Nean writes: “I am so very honored and always have been to be your godmother. What a privilege it has been to have a child in faith. I only hope I am living up to the task.”
She has, indeed. Aunt Nean always remembers me on my birthday and Christmas with cards and sometimes far too generous checks. And yet, her godmothering transcends gifts and other tangibles. I’ve perhaps learned the most from her strong faith, her unwavering generosity and her involvement with her church.
I’m thankful to have a godmother who has been all that a godparent should be – an example of holiness, a spiritual mentor, and a partner in my faith journey. Too often the role of godparenting is reduced to a brief appearance on baptism day and perhaps an occasional gift. “Godparenting today walks a fine line between social convention and an act of faith,” says Tom Sheridan, author of The Gift of Godparents (ACTA Publications). “It can be both, and perhaps it should. But at its heart, godparenting is an evangelistic challenge to see the presence of God in the face of a child, and then to learn to share Jesus Christ with that child.”
The Origin of Godparenting
The tradition of godparenting can be traced back to the early days of the Catholic Church. Long ago, converts were received into the Church through the Sacrament of Baptism only after they had been advised in the tenets of the faith by a friend or someone appointed by the Church (now called a “sponsor”). These friends of faith were the first godparents. “Our understanding of godparents echoes that of those patient souls in the early years of the Church who took curious non-Christians under their wing and encouraged them, taught them and acted as Christian role models,” explains Sheridan.
In the second century, the Church extended the practice of appointing godparents to infants receiving baptism. While post-modern godparenting is a little different, Sheridan points out that “the essence – encouragement, teaching and being a good example – remains.”
The Role of Godparents
“For all the baptized, children or adults, faith must grow after Baptism” (CCC 1254), and godparents play an essential role in this progression of faith. “[Godparenting] really is an act steeped in the tradition of faith. Baptism isn’t just a ‘christening.’ It’s a ‘Christ-ening,’” says Sheridan. “God parents are expected to take part in the celebration of baptism, to ‘stand with’ the parents in support of their faith – not the child’s faith alone – and to be a good example to their godchild.”
According to the Catechism, “…the godfather and godmother…must be firm believers, able and ready to help the newly baptized – child or adult – on the road of Christian life” (CCC 1255). Good godparents not only fulfill a social role, but they are serving as an extension of the Church. “My role as godparent is to help bring these children to Christ,” explains Phyllis Stanton, a godmother of two children.
If the true role of godparent is taken seriously, it’s easy to see that choosing and/or serving as a godparent is no easy undertaking. Before choosing godparents for a child or as an adult preparing for the Sacrament of Baptism, take some time to pray about it. Think of people who have inspired you in your own faith life. If you’ve been asked to be a godparent, consider it a great honor and again, pray about how you can help this child or adult in his or her faith formation.
Making the Most of Your Role
Being a godparent is a huge responsibility and a lifelong commitment in which you become a Christian example of holiness to another person. Double gulp. But just as Mother Teresa reminds us to do “ordinary things with extraordinary love,” there are small things you can do that will likely make a big difference in your godchild’s life. Here are a few suggestions:
• Prepare for your role. If you’ve been asked to be a godparent, whether for a child or an adult, do all you can to get ready. Most parishes have Baptismal classes. If at all possible, try to attend these classes.
• Don’t forget their Baptismal Day. While it’s always nice to remember godchildren on their birthday and other holidays, make a point of honoring the day they joined the Body of Christ. Send them a “Happy Baptism Day” note on the anniversary of this important sacrament. If you live close by, host a Baptismal Day celebration and light white candles in honor of your godchild. You may also want to send a small faith-based gift like a medal or holy card on their feast day.
• Share your faith. “My godchildren are really young right now, but I’m excited about being able to talk to them about their faith and to be a spiritual mentor when they’re older,” says Lili Banan, a godmother of two toddlers. Adds godmother Ginny Scarritt, “As my godchildren get older, I’ll make certain they understand they can come to me with questions about faith.” You can introduce even young children to the faith by reading to them from a Children’s Bible or sharing information about their name saint or a favorite patron saint. For example, if your godson is a Little Leaguer, teach him about St. Sebastian, the patron saint of athletes. Remember to share your faith with the child’s parents as well.
• Celebrate the sacraments with your godchildren. If your godchildren are close enough, make every effort to attend their First Communion and Confirmation. When possible, share the Eucharist together. And don’t forget to be there for him or her when wedding bells begin to chime.
• Give gifts with eternal value. The right gifts can “help cement the relationship between godparent and godchild, especially as they grow,” according to Sheridan. Faith-inspired gifts like rosaries, crucifixes and prayer books are always a good idea. “Consider paying for your godchild to attend a youth retreat or similar event as they get older,” adds Sheridan.
• Pray for your godchild often. This is by far the best gift you can give to godchildren. “I can’t do a lot for my godchildren right now because they’re far away, but I keep pictures of them in my house and whenever I look at them, I say a little prayer on their behalf,” Banan says.