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  • Writer's pictureBrandon Harvey

The Temptation that the Best Godparents & Grandparents Fall Into...

Updated: Apr 26

baptism

Many have experienced the sadness of choosing a godparent for our child, or the similar role of Confirmation sponsor, and for the godparent(s) to be present for the Baptismal Liturgy and the initial years, and then to never see them again. Another common sadness exists when godparents, and again the similar role of Confirmation sponsor, look forward to the Baptismal Liturgy with joy, but have no concept that they have agreed to a lifetime commitment. Besides these two, there is another. It is a common temptation among the best-intentioned godparents and even the most intentionally Catholic grandparents. Before we shed light on this issue, let us first, albeit briefly, examine the role of godparents. 


Essentially, godparents and sponsors have the same role. An adult convert that receives Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist will have a single sponsor. An infant being baptized will have one or two, and their Confirmation sponsor will ideally be one from their Baptism. “To emphasize the unity of the two sacraments, it is appropriate that this be one of the baptismal godparents” (CCC 1311). While this does not always happen, it is important to realize that what the Church says about the responsibility of baptismal godparents is true of Confirmation sponsors.  


Godparents provide help in the life of faith and not just on the day of the sacrament. “Candidates for Confirmation, as for Baptism, fittingly seek the spiritual help of a sponsor” (CCC 1311). The Code of Canon Law explains this a bit further when it explains that they assist “an adult in Christian initiation or together with the parents presents an infant for baptism. A sponsor also helps the baptized person to lead a Christian life in keeping with baptism and to fulfill faithfully the obligations inherent in it” (Canon 872). Sponsors do not simply help a Christian in his life but help the person in his Christian life. In the baptismal liturgy of a child, the godparents agree to help as supporters of the parents who have the ultimate responsibility to bring their child up in the ways of the faith, to know the Lord, to love Him, and to follow Him. What is clear here is that godparents exercise their responsibility primarily after the sacrament's reception.  


praying

When one considers the responsibility of parents and godparents/sponsors, as attested to by dozens of Church Documents and liturgical moments, one is presented with the Church’s recognition of the necessity of community. The Christian life cannot be lived in isolation. War with the enemy cannot be won without the help of an army. We do not simply journey on a pilgrimage, but each of us is meant to walk this pilgrim way together since we are all called to the same eternal destination. The community plays an essential role in helping each of its individual members as does Sam, and the rest of the Fellowship help Frodo reach his destination of Mordor (see Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien). Besides parents and godparents, Christian grandparents serve as a natural member of a child’s immediate experience of human and Christian community. If you want to arrive at the eternal destination of heaven, walk with other pilgrims to get there. If you want to remain a Christian, surround yourself with other Christians. If you want to be the saint God calls you to be, then surround yourself with those saints in the making that will support you and inspire you. If you want God, faith, and heaven for your child, then surround him with intentional and supportive Christians.


The temptation that many well-intentioned godparents and Christian grandparents find themselves confronted with, me included, is the belief that we are no longer necessary. We might see the child’s family going to Mass, sending kids to church camp in the summer, praying before meals, and discussing religious topics often and easily. “They have this under control. They don’t need me. What could I possibly offer that they don’t already have?” The truth is that what such godparents and grandparents can offer is themselves. What they need isn’t simply their immediate family living out the faith together and the parents alone to instruct and inspire the child, but an entire community. Not only do the words and actions of others help to reinforce the work of Christian parents, which is especially helpful if/when the child goes through a rebellious stage, but the child needs many embodiments of the same faith in order to help him navigate the difficult waters of life as a person of faith. Plus, we may perceive that we are not necessary, but how often do we have a full picture into another person’s life?  


What is a better experience of Christian community? Christian parents trying their best to share the faith with their children, and others surrounding them that believe the same things but otherwise refrain from intentionally getting involved in the teaching and living out the faith alongside them? Or Christian parents trying their best to share the faith with their children, with godparents and Christian grandparents doing the same through prayer, word and deed on a regular basis? Only the latter fulfills the responsibility that godparents made at the baptismal liturgy, and only the latter fulfills the grandparents’ responsibility to help their adult children in living out the faith until this pilgrim journey reaches its end.  


For many godparents and grandparents, they find themselves unable to be directly involved in the Christian child’s life. This may be due to differences in location, tensions within relationships, or even apostasy. What every godparent and Christian grandparent can do, regardless of circumstances, is to support the child through prayer and love. For example: 


  • Have a daily prayer for all your godchildren/grandchildren that petitions God to help them to become aware of their need for God, to encounter Him, and to enjoy eternity with Him in heaven. 

  • Pray for specifics, perhaps based on the general age of the child, during a Holy Hour.  

  • Contact your parish and request a Mass said for him around the time of his birth, baptismal anniversary, and other milestones.  

  • If possible, send letters, cards, prayer cards or religious items by mail to tell him you are thinking of him and praying for him. 


For the godparent or Christian grandparent to be able to assist in the pilgrim journey through word and deed within the context of intentional community, there are additional things that one can do to fulfill his missionary responsibility and meet the needs of the child. 


  • Ask: How can I pray for you this week? 

  • Ask: How is your faith life? 

  • Create a space where you can listen to the child’s questions, comments, or even doubts regarding God, the meaning of life, morality, etc.  

  • Support the parents by gifting them books on the faith, opportunities to attend a bible study while you watch the kids, or other ways for them to grow in their own faith as Christian parents. 

  • Help celebrate baptismal anniversaries. 

  • Go to Mass together. 

  • Help make a big deal, according to the Christian worldview, out of First Confession, First Communion, Confirmation, etc.  

  • Provide opportunities to introduce them to books and movies that “baptize” their imagination. 

  • Pray together. 

  • Share a meal together and lead the prayer. 

  • Take him to Confession and then for a nature walk. 

  • Take him to a Holy Hour and then for some ice cream. 

  • Go to a weekday Mass together during the summer and then out for breakfast. 

  • Coordinate for the families to go on a retreat or pilgrimage trip or Catholic conference/event together.  

  • Find occasional opportunities at the meal table, or in the car, or on a walk to discuss the faith. Be a witness to the impact of God and the Church in your life. Discuss current events together in light of the Catholic faith.  

  • Financially sponsor and/or drive him to a summer church camp. 

  • Help him to see the Catholic essence behind Christmas, Easter, St. Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, etc.  

  • Serve the poor and needy together. 

  • Be an example of how faith transforms all aspects of daily life and enters into things like sports, hunting, holidays, health choices, lifelong learning opportunities, handling pain and suffering and loss, making difficult choices, voting, camping, vacationing, the arts, etc.  

 

Being a faith figure in a child’s life is not only a blessing to that child and his parents but is also a means of growing in one’s own faith. For our Lord Jesus asked us to go out, make disciples, and bring the faith to all peoples (Mt 28:19-20). Sharing the faith through word and deed is an opportunity for encounter with God and a deepening of that divine relationship.

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