My husband and I welcomed our third child on July 4. Naturally, amidst the joy, there are many things on our minds. One of those is how should we choose our baby’s godparents.
This can be a lot trickier than many people realize. I have two sisters, and my husband has two brothers—all four are active Catholics. Perfect…for your first two kids. What do you do with the third? Do you start over with immediate family? Do you branch out into extended family? Friends? All of these things enter into our discussion. And our situation is not nearly as complex as some.
A friend and her husband are both Catholic, from Catholic families, and each has one sibling—one male and one female. She wants to choose family members as godparents, but his sister only attends Mass occasionally and her brother doesn’t attend at all. What should they do? Choosing others may be the right choice, but how will that affect family dynamics?
Parents are the primary teachers of their children in the ways of faith. Godparents are to assist and support the parents and, should the parents not be able to fulfill their duties for the child (especially in the case of death), teach the child the ways of the faith. (Some people confuse the godparent’s role with legal guardianship of a child in the event of the parents’ death. These are separate responsibilities, which may or may not be best fulfilled by the same persons.)
Things all parents should know about the role and requirements of godparents are:
- “Godparent is not an honorary title but a job description. Godparents are, with you, a child’s guide on the Christian life journey. They will help share your little one’s faith by sharing their own in word and deed. You will therefore want to choose people whose own baptismal commitment is firm and whose love for God and neighbor is generous” (Luebering).
- “Godparents are to represent the Christian Catholic community, the Church. They are to assist the child’s parents in raising their child in our Catholic faith, so that the child may profess and live it as an adult” (Wegher).
- “What your are looking for are godparents who can truly represent the Christian community. Basically this means you want at least one active and committed Catholic.” (Wegher)
- “The godfather and godmother…must be firm believers, able and ready to help the newly baptized—child or adult—on the road of the Christian life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1255).
- Church law insists that a godparent must be at least 16 years of age, fully initiated (having received Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist), be someone other than the legal parents, and one who leads a life in harmony with the Church.
It’s important to choose godparents wisely—weighing not only their current commitment to the faith, but also the impact of that decision on family dynamics. This is definitely a decision that should be prayed about!
If choosing a family member is important to the parents, perhaps the months of preparing for the birth or adoption of a child can be a time of evangelization in one’s own family. This may include some honest conversations about faith and family. As expectant parents share their hopes and dreams for their child—including, of course, their desire for loving relationships with family—they should speak candidly about their desire to share their faith with their child and the importance of choosing good godparents who can support them in this effort. This might serve as an invitation to a family member to consider his or her own relationship with the Church and practice of the faith—and the impact the example of their life may have on the new family member. We never know how God may speak to the hearts of others!
Here are some resources from Franciscan Media that will help parents and godparents understand the important role of a godparent:
When You Are a Godparent by Elizabeth Bookser Barkley
Godparents of Children (Catholic Update Video)
Godparents and Sponsors: What Is Expected of Them Today? by William F. Wegher (Catholic Update)
Your Child’s Baptism by Carol Luebering
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