Celebrant: Are you ready to help the parents of this child in their duty as Christian parents?
Godparents: We are.
-From the Rite for the Baptism of One Child
My sister Alexandra and her husband Steve have, between the two of them, ten godchildren. On a recent stroll through their neighborhood, we prayed for each of them by name before beginning a decade of the rosary: Serina, David, Anthony, Cora, Emma, Michael, Alexander, Kenny, Lyanna, and Liliana. I chirped in the names Christopher and Joseph, who are my two well-loved godchildren. They are well-loved. But are they well-godmothered?
What Does It Mean to Be a Good Godparent?
This question weighs on me. How do I know that what I do for my godsons is enough? Is that even the right question to be asking?
My approach to being a godparent, until now, has included poking around gift shops and Etsy with the vague notion that I should be providing stellar-yet-affordable gifts that teach the Faith in a way that’s credible and age-appropriate and won’t drive parents bananas.
I’ve also given cards full of jokes, and even once checked in with my godchild’s brother’s godparents on the sly to compare whether my gift-giving approach and frequency aligns with theirs.
The Godparent Job Description
Fortunately, yes, there is a job description of sorts. There are countless points of catechesis and encouragement from Saints and popes on the purpose and importance of baptism. These touch on the ecclesial community’s function in it (the community of which the godparent is the emblem—see more in Chapter 8 of Why the Church? by Luigi Giussani).
Thanks to these resources, we can actually point to a fairly concise role for godparents. Time to ease the uncertainty, the complacent habits, and even guilt that can find their way into, frankly, any parenting role.
Pop quiz: What is the bare minimum you must do, subsequent to baptism, for your godchild as a godparent?
- Pray for your godchild daily
- Pray for your godchild’s parents daily
- Commemorate, annually, the anniversary of your godchild’s baptismal day
- Set an example for your godchild, attending daily Mass when possible and making use of the sacrament of Confession about twice per month
While one could make a case, even a strong case, for prioritizing any of the above, it was a trick question! None of these tasks is explicitly asked of godparents.
So What’s Required of Me as a Godparent?
Here’s a new list of options. Regardless of whether your godchild was baptized as an infant, as an adult, or sometime in between, as a godparent you must:
- Help your godchild “lead a Christian life in keeping with baptism” (1983 Code of Canon Law, Canon 872)
- Help your godchild “fulfill faithfully the obligations inherent in [a Christian life]” (ibid.)
- Both A and B
You guessed it, the classic “both, and.”
In her wisdom, the Church has charged godparents with a short, universally applicable, and incredibly important list. And terrifyingly, the tasks likely require our ongoing discernment and freedom in order to fulfill them well. I’m kidding/not-kidding here. Don’t be terrified, or at least be much less terrified than new parents who are handed their infant and told, “Don’t worry, all you need to do is keep this person alive and loved. So easy.”
Be Attentive to Your Godchild’s Needs
A parent needs to interpret a child’s needs and respond in a manner sensitive to those needs So too a godparent gets to be attentive to their godchild’s needs and interests, their own strengths, and other factors to chart a course. They must be “able and ready to help the newly baptized – child or adult – on the road of Christian life” (CCC 1255).
And good news! The Lord gave you a mothering heart. You and I each have exactly the heart we need to be able to accomplish, with grace and care, our role in the salvation story.
Thus, freedom and creativity are ours. Think of Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother. She is watchful, like a mother, and knows exactly what Cinderella needs exactly when she needs it. She uses what she has (mice, a pumpkin, her own skill with a wand) to provide Cinderella with custom gifts and guidance.
You don’t have to godmother the same way as the awesome Catholic godmothers of your social media feed. No two people have exactly the same approach, and no two godchildren are exactly the same, either.
The other night as I removed my eye make-up, I had a realization that unseated a falsehood. It had creeped in and tied a few knots and set a few expectations that had left me with the uncertainty, complacent habits, and ambiguous sense of guilt that I mentioned above. I’d fallen into the belief that I should celebrate my godchildren’s baptismal anniversaries. On a certain level, I would have denied that belief. But I resisted even thinking of the possibility of being a good godmother without it. If I don’t remember that special day and celebrate it with my godchildren, who will? Would they come to understand the importance of baptism?
My mascara-ringed eyes grew wide as I came abruptly upon two concurrent facts that were obvious as soon as I’d seen them. First, I don’t know my own baptismal date! And second, not knowing the date has not kept me from believing that the objective fact of my baptism is the most decisive and important of my life, and that it changed my history and my future. This freed me immensely. I can and will continue to mark these dates. But it’s shifted from a “should” to a godmothering prerogative.
The Bottom Line for a Godparent
Christopher lives in Florida, and I rarely see him in person. I want to share with him my love of John Paul II, and so earlier this year I sent him a magnet with a photo of that epic Saint. Whether you’re shipping a Christmas gift, praying a novena, steeling yourself for a brave conversation reminding your godchild’s parents of the Precepts of the Church (see CCC 2041-2043), introducing yourself to your godchild as his or her godmother, setting up a college savings account, or taking your godchild to a movie, please act with the intention to help “the grace of baptism to unfold” (CCC 1255).
“Parents and godparents, this light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly,” states the baptismal rite. Though it sounds like it, that wasn’t said in the throne room in an ancient ballad of a distant kingdom. Very likely, it’s something that’s been said directly to you. And then you joined your intention to the prayer of the celebrant over your godchild, “When the Lord comes, may he (she) go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.”
Do you have any godchildren? How do you help them on their path to holiness?How to Be a Great Godparent #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Anna Knier appreciates homemade tortillas, worthy cribbage opponents, and clever turns-of-phrase. You can find out more about her here.