Sunday, February 2, 2014
You’ve been poorly catechized and didn’t really understand the role of a Godparent for your newborn baby and so you gave this honor to your best-friend-since-3rd-grade. It made sense at the time and you both giggled and loved the whole idea of it. Now, years later, you no longer speak to your best-friend-since-3rd-grade. You’ve come to regret this poor choice—in a very big way—and don’t know what to do about the lousy Godparent you chose.
You have been blessed by faith-filled parents and have been living your faith in a constant manner for as long as you can remember. Bestowing the honor of Godparent upon your cousin was a good choice. After all, she’s family and your lives have the blood connection that will stand the test of time. A few years later you see that she didn’t really get how important this honor was and has really failed. She apparently didn’t read up on the “job” description and now your daughter is burdened with a lousy Godparent. And your daughter sees this at every family Christmas where other Godparents give their Godchildren gifts and hugs and special attention and your daughter gets nothing. Nada. What do you do?
The fact is, most of us are somewhere in the middle when it comes to selecting Godparents for our children. We get that it is an honor and we know it is somewhat important. (And the people we ask probably get it to a degree, too.) Since we can’t predict the future, we do our best and ask the person we feel would be best suited for the role—and he or she accepts—all without anyone necessarily understanding the entirety of the Godparent moniker. I inquired of a friend, a faith-filled practicing Catholic and the mother of a rather large brood, if she was “happy” with her choices of Godparents. Without skipping a beat she replied, “Nope.”
So what is the role of a Godparent in the Catholic faith? To answer this I asked my own Pastor who is always so generous with his time whenever I am trying to get to the bottom of this or that question about our faith. Father’s answer easily sums up the “official” and “unofficial” roles of a Godparent:
“The “official” role of a godparent is to be a religious or spiritual example for the child. They are also the official witness of what is taking place. Unofficially a godparent is supposed to be a loving presence in the life of the child. I often tell folks at baptism that it is through the love of a godparent and grandparent that a child learns unconditional love. Mommy and Daddy have to say “no” but a grandparent or godparent doesn’t have too.”
The first line really had an impression upon me: …to be a religious or spiritual example for the child. This is so clear cut. It should become the litmus test for each time we choose a Godparent. It isn’t meant to be an indictment of the possible Godparent, but forces us to look at whomever we are considering for this important role through the eyes of the young person to whom they ought to be a “religious or spiritual” example. I really, really like the words used here: religious or spiritual example.
It doesn’t mean we must seek out someone who goes to daily Mass (although there isn’t anything wrong with that!) but rather we should find someone whose countenance is loving, selfless, and kind: an embodiment of Christ. If we’ve experienced them in this way, we can count on them fulfilling their role as Godparent as they should. As Father then says, they officially witness what takes place at the baptism which is the Sacrament of Initiation.
Father’s brief explanation continues to impress upon me the role of a Godparent:…be a loving presence. In other words, be a presence. Again the words are important. What does it mean to be a “presence” in a child’s life? It means remembering birthdays, graduations, basketball games, acknowledging successes and offering encouragement in difficult times. “Be a loving presence” is as clear as “be a religious or spiritual example.” If we’ve witnessed that this person, this potential Godparent, has been a loving presence to others, chances are he or she will be that same sort of loving presence to our child—his or her Godchild.
As Father continues and mentions the “unconditional” love that a Godparent shows a Godchild, we again see that for this to occur they have to be a “presence” in the child’s life. Does this mean they must live around the corner? No. Especially with all the ways in which people can stay connected nowadays, we can select a Godparent who lives near or far; in the end what matters is that the Godparent must choose to be “present” in their Godchild’s life.
So we missed the boat and are stuck with lousy Godparents. Can we do anything?
No we can’t re-baptize our children and pick new, better, more-improved Godparents.
No we can’t change their status or demote them because they were the witness to this incredible event in our child’s life.
But we can make sure that our children have other people in their lives that fill the role of Godparents—just without the official title. “Foster” Godparents, if you will. We can also make a concerted effort to be a religious or spiritual example to our children and to practice more unconditional love towards them. If we feel something is lacking in our children’s lives because of their lousy Godparents, then chances are we are up to the task of all this!
And it makes perfect sense if our children are a bit older to even share the role of Godparents and let them know that while their own Godparent(s) may have missed the mark (it is probably best not to use the word “lousy” when talking with our kids), their baptism was a joyous day in the life of the Kingdom of God! Help them focus on the day of their baptism. This is particularly important if, within a family, you have one child whose Godparents are especially lousy and some of your other children have exceptional Godparents. Kids should never think they somehow failed to “earn” or “deserve” a Godparent’s love or interest. (On the other hand, if you’ve been given the honor of being a Godparent and have not lived up to the responsibility and the privilege, it is never too late to start.)
We can and should pray for the Godparent(s) we have chosen, especially the lousy ones. At some point we thought they were the best candidate for the job and although we now know better, it would be a beneficial experience for us to offer up our sorrow and sadness for their sanctification. While there may not be earthly rewards for such an exercise in humility, the eternal rewards might be significant—for us and for them!
The illustration used is from the children's book "Where Do Deacons Come From?" written by Elizabeth Ficocelli and illustrated by Shannon Wirrenga