Recently, I was asked by a family in my parish to be the godfather for their baby boy, Cole. In the same week, my youngest sister had a baby girl and asked me to be baby Ellie’s godfather. Having no kids myself, I felt honored to suddenly have two godchildren. On the surface, I always saw this role as an affirmation from the parents to the godparents, affirming that I was of importance in their lives and they wanted to express that by bestowing this significant title upon me.
After further thought, I realized its essence was deeper and was in fact an affirmation of the spiritual role that I would ideally play in bringing the child up in the faith, becoming a spiritual role model and instructor of the faith. The title in itself is inert, yet indicates a profound responsibility, and a role that presumes definite action.
In the early times of Christianity, when Christians suffered persecution at the hands of the Romans, godparents witnessed baptisms done in secret and their responsibility carried great weight. They were sponsors, and carried the all important duty of instructing the child in the faith and ensuring that the faith of Christ was instilled into them, at a time when persecution was a brutal reality. Well, that was then.
In the godfather certificate I received, it states this privilege “offers (me) the opportunity to develop a mutually enriching spiritual relationship – one that will last throughout this life and beyond.” It goes on to give suggestions such as celebrating the anniversary of the baptism, being there to share the struggles of Christian life, being a supportive role to the parents, and being a model of Christian living by participating in the life of the Church. The ideal still exists, though the reality starkly differs.
Reflecting on my own dear godparents, my aunt religiously (pun probably intentional) sends a card every birthday and Christmas on behalf of my godfather, and my godmother sends a birthday card once a year and usually asks my mother how I’m doing from time to time. I believe that is the extent to which they are involved in my life, let alone in my spiritual life. Perhaps I could do more as a godson to foster more of a spiritual bond. Being one of five kids, I know that each of us was assigned godparents at our baptism, but I couldn’t tell you who they were. In fact, I’m not even sure I know when my own baptism was, so even I don’t celebrate the anniversary. (That will change after this post.)
I have people in my life that I go to for spiritual guidance, but I must confess it’s not my godparents. So what can we do today to reignite or reimagine the relationship between godchildren and their godparents? I know for baby Cole and baby Ellie, I will make every effort to be there. I intend to be there as a spiritual father, so if anything, it’s going to hold me responsible to making sure that I keep my relationship with our God and our faith strong.
The Church states, “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) I feel blessed to be bound in that way to Cole and Ellie, and pray I can live up to this ideal. I’ve never been good with sending cards, so I pray the Holy Spirit can guide my efforts beyond financially supporting the greeting card industry.
So what is the role of the godparent today? Is it still relevant? Isn’t everyone a godchild? Do we all need godparents? What is your relationship with your godparents like?