Monday, December 20, 2004

Public Notice on Godparents
Folks, my friend Fr. Tucker at Dappled Things is on a roll, and we seem to be on a similar pastoral wavelength these past few days. I linked to his article on QuinceaƱeras because my similar experiences with this Latino custom impelled me to draft some new policies in this parish. Today, Fr. Tucker treats the role of Godparents for Baptism. This is a subject about which, I have discovered, there exists not a little confusion. For this reason, I also have begun working on a brief catechesis on the role of Godparent, which I intend to print as a bulletin insert some day soon. Fr. Tucker's post is cause for me to share my own thoughts.

I think the following real story is the example from my experience that best illustrates the confusion about Godparents. A young father came to see me in my office and informed me that he wanted to have his child baptized. The father himself does not regularly attend Mass and I had never seen him before. He came to me with this question (folks, this is exactly how he raised the topic with me): "I want my brother to be the Godfather, but he doesn't go to Mass. Can he be the Godfather?" I said, "Well, no, he can't be. If he is not practicing the Faith, he is ineligible to serve as a Godparent." The man responded, "But he's my brother and this is a big honor for him!" At this point, I realized without a doubt that we were not speaking about the same thing.

"Hold it," I said, "Tell me what it is that a Godparent does? What is the role of a Godparent." The man replied: "The Godparent is supposed to be there for the kid and if I die he steps in and raises him." Yes, with that total misunderstanding and failure to even mention the primary role of the Godparent, I knew we had trouble. I responded, "No, actually the role of the Godparent has nothing to do with who gets custody of the children in the event of your untimely death. That is often an additional role that parents request of a Godparent, but it is by no means the primary role/duty. Likewise, the role is not about honoring your brother with a title, but about a real responsibility and a real promise made to God to raise a child in the Faith. The Godparent is to assist the parent in seeing that the gift of Faith, given to the child in Baptism, is kept alive and burning brightly until the Lord returns in glory. Someone who is not practicing the Faith is not eligible to model the Faith for someone else."

I then went on with this analogy (this is what I have been working on for the bulletin). "What does a parent do? A parent imparts life to his offspring. Most obviously, a parent imparts physical/natural life to a child, but a parent is also responsible for the raising of the children. This requires imparting emotional, intellectual, social, moral, spiritual, and affective life as well. Quite simply, in order to impart physical life, a parent must meet certain qualifications, certain "things" (yes, I am referencing reproduction here) must be in working order or the parent is quite simply not able to impart such life.

"So apply this to a Godparent. As does a parent, a Godparent gives life to a child. Godparents are to assist in giving spiritual, moral, and faith life to their children. Just as a parent needs certain functioning physical parts, the Godparent must have a healthy, functioning spiritual life if he is to be able to impart the same life to a child. If a person is not fully initiated and living Catholic Faith, he cannot serve as a Godparent to another person. A person who is not living the life of grace and especially who is himself ineligible to receive the Sacraments, cannot stand in a role of offering an example to follow in the same spiritual life. For such a person, the functioning "parts" quite simply are not there in order to accomplish the task set before a Godparent. Being a Godparent is about far more than honoring a family member. It is far more than a social gathering, an excuse for pictures and a party (as much a part of the Baptism as those should be). It is a solemn oath made to God, made in the Church, gathered with fellow believers, in the presence of the Church's minister (representing Christ the Head of the Body). As such a solemn oath it carries serious consequences for the eventual entrance into the Heavenly kingdom for both the parents and the Godparents."

That's my frontal attack on the ignorance and malformation of the flock. It all comes back to that old maxim: Nemo dat quod non habet. No one gives what he does not have.

No comments: