Sponsors of Baptism

Sponsors of BaptismDear Parishioners,

I guess—technically—she didn’t actually hang up on me, since she first said, “okay-thank-you-bye-bye,” in the middle of the sentence I was speaking, and then disconnected…..but it sure felt that way.

She had called the parish office because someone asked her to be the godmother for their newborn baby. She needed a Sponsorship Certificate, which states that she is eligible to be a sponsor for the Sacrament of Baptism. I didn’t know her and she wasn’t registered with the parish. When I asked which Mass she comes to on the weekend, she said she doesn’t come to church. The last time she had attended, she said, was Christmas Eve. Not so bad, I was thinking, as I explained that one of the requirements for godparents is that they are involved in parish life. “No, no, we don’t go to church,” she said firmly. When I continued to explain how a godparent is meant to be a role model of Catholic faith in the child’s life, hoping to coax a little openness out of the woman…..well, that’s when I got the “okay-thank-you-bye-bye” hang up.

Now, I have been a parish priest long enough to know that you attract far more godparents back into the faith community with honey rather than vinegar. I am convinced that a pastoral approach is what is called for in these instances, versus an iron rigidity—but, lady, you’ve gotta give me something (anything!) to work with. A flat- out refusal to even discuss the possibility of joining and becoming involved in a parish community just doesn’t leave a lot of options in my hand.

Being asked to be a godparent is a wonderful honor and with that honor comes a responsibility. (No, it isn’t to raise the child Catholic in the case that something horrible happens to the parents!) The Church sees the godparent as a role model (not only of goodness and kindness and all around terrificness) but also of Catholic faith in the child’s life. That’s why there are requirements made of the sponsors for baptism (and not the parents!): The sponsor should be…

  • fully initiated into the Church through the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist;
  • living according to teachings of the Church as expressed in its codes and canons…..(for most part, this translates into the marriage laws—if the person is married, it should be a marriage that is recognized as valid by the Church);
  • be involved in the community life of the Church… (as in registered with a parish, attending Mass, engaged in its outreach efforts…).

Applying these requirements pastorally can often lead people, who might have been on the “edges” with regard to their religion, into a fuller experience of faith and church. I’ve seen it happen. But there does need to be an openness on both sides of that phone call….

Father John