Together on the Road of Christian Life: What it Means to Be Godparents
My husband and I recently became godparents to our dear friends’ precious little girl. As we prepared for this momentous occasion, we gave great thought to what it means to be godparents – and what it means to be baptized. For our own children, we hoped for godparents who would honor the special spiritual relationship that begins at the moment of Baptism and keep the faith at the center of their interactions throughout our children’s lives. Now we have the opportunity to be godparents who pray for and with our goddaughter, remember and celebrate the special days in her life, model what life in the Spirit looks like, and include her in our family’s life of faith.
Able and Ready
To be great godparents, my husband and I gave ourselves a bit of a refresher on what actually happens during Baptism. At Baptism, our goddaughter was washed of original sin, marked for Christ, and welcomed as a child of God into the family of the Catholic Church. She received the light of Christ, symbolized in the baptismal candle, “put on Christ” with her baptismal garment, and was anointed priest, prophet, and king as a sharer in the priesthood of Christ. As her godparents, we served not only as witnesses to the outpouring of grace upon her soul but also promised to help her act upon that grace and accompany her on the spiritual journey upon which she has just embarked.
The Catechism mentions godparents in only one place: “For the grace of Baptism to unfold, the parents’ help is important. So too is the role of the godfather and godmother, who must be firm believers, able and ready to help the newly baptized – child or adult – on the road of Christian life” (CCC 1255). It is our job to support her throughout life, not just at her Baptism or during her childhood. To be “able and ready” to walk with our goddaughter on her faith journey, we must ourselves stay close to the Lord in prayer and discern the movement of the Holy Spirit in our own lives, modeling a faithful response to God’s personal call.
An Intentional Lifelong Relationship
At her Baptism, the priest reminded us that godparents represent the commitment of the Church to the baptized. We are a visible, and particular, expression of the extended family of God into which she entered at Baptism. Our commitment to this lifelong spiritual relationship extends to our goddaughter’s parents. We commit to support our friends in their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs as they raise their children in faith. Especially in the demanding early years of parenting, we offer our friendship, physical assistance such as meals or help with the house, and prayers; we promise to be present through the ups and downs of family life. Since we are not related by blood and cannot just happen upon these moments by accident at family gatherings, this will require intentionality. If we want Our goddaughter to feel comfortable enough to come to us with prayer intentions, questions of faith, and help with discernment as an adolescent and young adult, we’ve got to be there from day one and start building that kind of relationship now.
With particular attention focused on our goddaughter, we embrace her whole family into the life of our family as we all attempt to live up to our baptismal call to life in the Spirit. This might look like participating in Mass together, celebrating important feast days and holidays, and praying together in times of struggle or joy. Ultimately, we commit to be a visible sign of God’s love as she experiences the mercy, tenderness, care, and love of God in our relationship with her and her family.
Gifts of Faith
Godparents offer gifts of faith throughout their godchild’s life. The most important of these gifts are spiritual. Do not underestimate the power of intercessory prayer. Remembering our goddaughter in prayer daily is the ultimate gift. As she gets older, we will make sure she knows about these prayers for her and will also pray with her whenever we can. Praying alongside her and her family at her first Mass as a baptized Christian was a beautiful spiritual experience which I will treasure forever.
Moments of celebration outside of the Mass can become spiritual experiences as well. Our presence at birthdays, future sacraments, special holidays, and other moments of importance in her life can remind her of her primary identity as a child of God. We can continually offer gifts of faith that teach her about this identity. Of course, traditional gifts like their first Bible, rosary, cross, or a memory box to store their baptismal candle and garment would be appropriate, but you can also consider objects that speak to where they are now. For our infant goddaughter, we bought a Holy Spirit dove teether and a plush stuffed angel – items she can use now that introduce her to concepts she’ll learn later on. We also gave her a beautiful board book that presents Psalm 139 for children, Near, by the author of the Jesus Storybook Bible. As she grows, we’ll gift her books that present a portrait of our loving and merciful God, and then make time to read them with her.
My husband and I decided to honor our own children’s Baptism anniversaries with a true celebration. We light their baptismal candle, pull out the photos, and make a cake or special treat. The day becomes a mini birthday, which is appropriate since Baptism marks the day of their rebirth in Christ. We include their godparents in these celebrations, and we intend to mark our goddaughter’s Baptism anniversary in a similar way with a small gift and card and celebrate together.
Even when our goddaughter is confirmed and grown, our work will not be done. We will keep praying for her and offering another avenue of support aside from her parents as she discerns her path in life. We can be an anchor in times of spiritual crisis, encourage her to explore questions of faith and help her search for answers, and support her expressions of faith even when they differ from our own particular spirituality. It is a privilege and grace to be a godparent, witnessing up close – and supporting in any way we can – the work of the Holy Spirit in and through this precious new life.