Aug 21, 2017
Could you say something about the importance of the role of godparents for baptism?
Perhaps you have had this experience: you have chosen godparents for your own children whom you believed to be good choices but who have not stayed connected with your children’s faith journey as a true help to them. Or, maybe you made choices based upon a sense of pressure to choose certain individuals who might otherwise not feel as though they were included in this opportunity. In the answer here, I will seek to define the role of a godparent and then offer some principles by which I encourage parents of newborn babies to approach this decision.
The Church’s Canon Law defines the role of the godparents in the baptism of children as assisting the parents in presenting the child for baptism, and to help the child to live in accord with the meaning of baptism. The law states that only one godparent is necessary, but two may be chosen (one man and one woman). A godparent is to be at least 16 years old and must be a confirmed Catholic who is practicing their faith (note: this is why we say at least one of the two chosen must be Catholic, for a non-Catholic Christian is more properly called a “Christian witness,” and not a godparent). Finally, a godparent is not to be the father or mother of the child to be baptized.
In plain terms, the Church entrusts to godparents a significant role. Not only are they to be present at the baptism, but they are to accompany a person on his/her faith journey through their years of growing. A beautiful testimony is given when a godparent from baptism is asked to sponsor a young person later in life at confirmation—as a way of continuing to remain in that person’s life of faith. It is clear that a person selected for this task should be one who is more than “Catholic in name only,” who truly embraces the faith and seeks to practice it to the full.
What advice would I give that godparents would stay committed to such a beautiful opportunity of journeying with young person in his/her faith? First of all, I would invite (and in some ways challenge) all parents to be discerning in making this decision. When deciding, parents should consider not only those who are in close
relation, but more importantly, among those who are clearly living the Catholic faith. That the godparents may be more easily committed to the child’s faith and in
encouraging the child, you may also consider choosing from among those who will live closer to the home of the child over those who live many miles away. Finally, I
encourage all to be aware that a choice based on “not hurting another’s feelings” is not always a good motive—and no, I am not endorsing the hurting of feelings; rather, I say this from the standpoint that the best choice may not be as simple as your sibling or cousin who to this point has been “left out” from being a godparent. (Note as well that the same principle holds true for those who feel compelled to choose more than two people for this important role…)
To serve as godparent is truly a beautiful blessing along with a great responsibility. Thus, hopefully parents will carefully choose those who are best for their children who understand this great gift and its responsibility.