I encountered a rather disturbing episode this weekend when I was giving a session to prepare parents and godparents for the celebration of the Sacrament of Baptism for infants in my parish. In my conversation with the parents and godparents, it was apparent how godparents may be chosen with little emphasis on their ability to pass on the faith.
The criterion for the choice of godparents seems to be based on rapport and friendship these days, rather than on the faith quality of the godparents. When the faith life of the godparents is not the chief criterion that the choice of godparent/s is based on, the role of godparenting becomes largely compromised, reducing it to being present at a ceremony and some photo-taking sessions, and perhaps a yearly visit to the godchild at festive occasions, making the ‘god’ prefix somewhat superfluous.
How do we ascertain the faith life of godparents, or anyone for that matter? A few simple questions usually can help to shed some light. It may not be foolproof, but it can be an indication. What is a sacrament? How many are there? Is baptism a sacrament? How many days of obligation are there in the Church calendar? Is a Catholic a Christian? Who are the four evangelists? Was St Paul one of the 12 apostles? Have you visited an adoration room before? Is Jesus really present in the Eucharist, or is it just symbolic? Is the Sacrament of Reconciliation something that you encounter on a regular basis?
Of course, one may have the perfect answers to these simple questions, and it may not mean that the faith life of the person is in good order, but it is some indication of some basics.
The Church has good reason for having godparents, because they assist the parents in forming the faith of the children. As the saying so rightly puts it, it takes a village to raise a child. The ‘village’ in this case is the represented by the godparent who should be chosen carefully from among those in the ‘village’ who are stalwarts of faith, courageous and steadfast believers of Christ, and shining examples of Christian living. The more a Catholic interacts with the community in a very involved way, the more he or she will know of the existence of such people in the community in which he or she lives in.
But there seems to be a great reluctance to be involved and active in the Catholic community by many Catholics. I do know that there is a lot of pressure and expectations of our working life, and to purposefully take one evening out a week to attend neighbourhood prayer meetings and get involved in the life of the community outside of Mass does entail a sacrifice. And here is the rub – if we keep citing work as a reason that we don’t know our community, then we will find it very difficult to identify faith heroes in our neighbourhoods who can become strong faith role models for our children to be godparents. And so, we will end up just asking our relatives or friends, either for the sake of nostalgia or because we don’t know anyone else. If their faith life were shining and sound, it would be wonderful. But if they cannot even answer simple and basic questions about the faith, we may end up compromising the faith development of our children.
When this happens, we will possibly end up reducing something deep and wonderful like a Sacrament of Baptism into merely a Kodak moment, and get all caught up in a rite, than the reality that it presents to us for life.