Jesus never seems to liken the kingdom of God to a pie in the face or a fireworks display. Some people have St. Paul moments which literally knock them to the ground, but most of us experience the power of God in subtler, more hidden ways. We often see traces of God and learn about his world when we encounter things that are beautiful, true, good, or unified. Sometimes, however, we seek God only when beautiful things are taken away--when we suffer. The very good news is that God, and his kingdom, are everywhere. Like oxygen, God is habitually available to us. We can seek him and find him in any circumstance, even when he appears to be hiding like yeast in dough or treasure buried in a field.
Christians in the world are both members of the kingdom of God and builders of it. As the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium insists, lay people "are called [into the world] by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity"(31). Resplendent. As leaven, hidden but active in the world, we can have lives resplendent in faith, hope, and love. Not too shabby.
|(Don't worry. I made this up.)|
As Fr. William Saunders writes, a sponsor, or godparent, "should be a trustworthy witness of the faith who will help the godchild attain salvation." And Canon Law (No. 872) states that Christian sponsors "will help the baptized to lead a Christian life in harmony with baptism, and to fulfill faithfully the obligations connected with it." If you're a parent preparing to select godparents, both of these sources will help you as you prayerfully consider the companions best suited to accompany your children throughout their faith journeys. (Click on the links to go to the original sources.)
A lot of parents I know find the godparent decision excruciating. Parents juggle family expectations, relationships with friends, and concerns for the spiritual growth of their children. Fortunately, we no longer consider additional things like the financial stability of godparents or the likelihood of horse heads appearing in our beds.
Keep in mind that asking people to serve as godparents is neither a reward for their past friendship nor an act of hope that non-practicing adults will return to their faith for the sake of the new godchild. Both of these motivations are perfectly human and understandable, but they treat the godchild as an object. The child's baptism is not designed to seal or heal a relationship with a sibling or friend, and the godchild cannot be saddled with the task of single-handedly bringing an adult back to full communion with the Church. Baptism asks nothing of the child. Baptism is a gift from God, freely given. Baptism saves the child from sin and opens the floodgates of God's grace. That's a lot.
Those of us parents who are not currently preparing for a child's baptism may be godparents ourselves, or may be wondering how to navigate the relationship with our children's godparents. Here are some issues I've been hearing lately:
- My child's godparents no longer play an active role.
Too many people, alas, don't have even one active godparent. Some people have no idea who their godparents are. There are also sad situations where the sponsor on the baptismal certificate turns out to be . . . not so resplendent, shall we say. A woman I know wanted to change her daughter's baptismal record to remove the name of the godfather, a man who was later convicted of child endangerment. The record of baptism serves as just that, though, a record. It is an official document stating who witnessed the baptism as it happened. Christians chased out the Donatists a long time ago, so we don't worry that the sacrament was jeopardized by a participant's lack of holiness. The baptism is over, the sponsors are officially recorded.
There's nothing stopping parents from surrounding their children with good Christian role models, godparents or not, or even from asking someone new to adopt the role of active godparent to replace, unofficially, the absent sponsor. When my brother got married a few years ago, my son asked his new aunt if she could replace his estranged godmother. She happily accepted, and has been a blessing.
- My child's godparents are a little pushy with religion.
- I'm a godparent, but I don't really know what to do.