My oldest godchild is almost 30. My youngest is 2. They live all across the U.S. and right here in Wisconsin. One of them just had her first baby, a boy. More about her later. I have been graced to watch my godchildren grow and find their way both in the world and in the Church. As with any journey, there are fits and starts. My responsibility is to use all means possible to drown out the societal babble and keep them focused on their Catholic faith. I can happily attest to the fact that I have been the recipient of many a teenage “eye-rolling” when I challenge my godchildren in their practice of the faith.
Today, it may be perceived that a godparent is more of a “nice tradition,” but this is not a passive role. In order to be a godparent, the Church, in canon 874 of the Code of Canon Law, requires that a person be “chosen” for this role and have the “aptitude and intention of fulfilling this function.” These are all very active descriptors. Various indicators must be present in the life of the godparent. These, again from canon 874, include the fact that a person must have “completed the 16th year of age,” that they “be a Catholic who has been confirmed … has received the sacrament of the Eucharist and who leads a life of faith,” they must not be “bound by any canonical penalty … or be the father or mother of the one to be baptized.” According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, my responsibility as a godparent is to be a “firm believer, able and ready to help the newly baptized … on the road of Christian life.” This challenge is probably why many families choose both a godmother and godfather. It takes two of them to share the awesome responsibility of faith formation with the parents of the baptized.
Baptism is a verb. It is an action word. In the Rite, parents accept their responsibility to be the first teachers of the faith for their children. Godparents stand beside them to affirm this grace and assure the parents that they will assist them in promoting the faith. It is not always easy. The decision to attend Mass every Sunday, to pray during the day, especially in the morning, before meals and bed, to share Scripture … these must be active, intentional decisions. It is easy to let time constraints chip away at the practice of our faith, activities come up, sports become primary, work schedules make Mass attendance “difficult.” As a godparent, it is my responsibility to make sure that I am looking over my godchild’s shoulder to give them a loving shove through the church doors for Mass (with food afterward, of course), to send them a scripture text or a link to a short Catholic video. Sometimes I even entitle these videos “cute puppies” so I know they will open them.
Even with the best of intentions, my godchildren sometimes slip away from the Church. It is rarely an outright rejection. They accept other activities as having the same importance. Sometimes, through the grace of God, they find their way back and heaven rejoices. Some do not return and I pray for them every day. The Holy Spirit can do great things. At times, it is a sacrament that brings them back. Remember my goddaughter who just had the baby boy? She never lost the faith and now, through requesting Baptism for their son, she has brought her husband and his family back. Through his Baptism, little Oliver has brought true blessing to his family. But, I, as his godmother to be, already knew that.