Q. We were asked to be godparents by some friends who are expecting a baby. We are not that close to them, so we were surprised to be asked and are not sure what our obligations would be for supporting the child in the faith. How can we “parent” spiritually?
A. Since my daughter, Shannon, was away on a college internship when she celebrated her birthday this year, her godfather sent birthday wishes through Facebook! When she was a baby, we couldn’t foresee communication patterns in the 21st century. But we did know that her godparents planned to remain active in her life.
Why did they choose you? Baptism is not a one-day event. Instead it opens the path to a new journey in Christ. Godparents are individuals who are willing to make a long-term commitment to the growth of the godchild’s faith: “For all the baptized, children or adults, faith must grow after baptism… Baptism is the source of that new life in Christ from which the entire Christian life springs forth.” (CCC #1254) Talk to your friends about their reasons for choosing you. Has your faith inspired them? Perhaps they are hoping that their child’s faith will be equally enriched. Or are they appreciative of your support during the pregnancy? In that case they might view the role as honorary, rather than substantive. Remember, in order to be an involved godparent, you must maintain a strong relationship with the parents, too.
The task of the godparent is an ecclesial function. Our Catechism stresses the vocation of the godparents: “For the grace of baptism to unfold, the parents’ help is important. So too is the role of the godfather and godmother, who must be firm believers, able and ready to help the newly baptized – child or adult on the road of Christian life. Their task is a truly ecclesial function (officium).” (CCC #1254) If you accept their request, then attend the baptismal preparation classes with the parents; read the books that are suggested by the facilitators. Pray for your godchild and ask the Holy Spirit for guidance in your relationship. Plan joyful celebrations to mark the baptism anniversary. As time passes, have your godchild choose a favorite Scripture and pray the baptismal vows together on each anniversary. Play an active role as your godchild prepares for each sacrament. Remember that what your godchild observes in your behaviors is teaching about the faith, too!
Dr. Cathleen McGreal is a psychology professor and certified spiritual director.