Monday, January 17, 2011

When the ceremony can overshadow the reality

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.


  1. Fr. Luke, I do hope that people do heed your words, as they are indeed true.

    I was a person who was baptized and given godparents who were not guardians of my faith, and while it may be noted that they were "nice" people, they did little to help form me. Sadly, my parents were nominal Catholics to put it gently and my spiritual well-being was not a paramount consideration.

    The assignment of godparents was based on friendship, rather than the merits and religious fervor of the individuals. As a result, I took a very long road to find Christ, and walked in the shadow of life until illuminated by grace.

    Parents should take great care in whom they ascribe to be their child's godparents and even more importantly they should take great pains to ensure that their child is brought up properly, as we cannot serve two masters. Yet, how would anyone know whom they serve if not properly educated and edified? How can they make good decisions? Therefore, parents and godparents alike should take great pains to be well versed in the faith and share that deposit of faith, as to do any less than this is do a disservice to the child, avoid our responsibilites for our state in life, and to not honor God with all our heart and soul.

  2. When i was baptised, my friend loaned me her mum to be my god-mother. Havng no catholic community, i naturally became a RC (retired catholic) so when my eldest girl was baptised, we have to borrow my brother-in-law's then girl friend.

    When i became a god-mother, i was determined to do fulfill my AMEN but failed. My sister thought i should just remain an aunt and not meddle in their spiritual lives.

    Community, yes, we need catholic communities to nurture parents and godparents and frLuke, we found our first catholic community after our ME weekend :)


  3. Wonderful post Fr. Luke. I hope that many Catholics asked potential Godparents the questions in your post. Keep up the good work!

  4. Dear Fr Luke,

    I attended RCIA in another church and was baptized last year. It was my mother in law who introduced the faith to me and we have been disussing the faith almost every week during meals.

    Initially I wanted to choose my mother in law as my god parent for my baptism. But I found out that I was not supposed to do so due to some church restrictions.

    In the end, I chose a god parent who is not as close to the faith as much as I wished he would be.

    Fr Luke, do you find it an irony that I am unable to choose the person which I look up upon most to the faith as my god parent?


  5. Dear Fr Luke

    Your post had me thinking who I might nominate to be a godparent if/when I had kids. Among my long time friends, I can't find a single one who would be able to answer all the questions of your little quiz.

    As a returning Catholic, I have more confidence in my newer friends at church but can't be 100% certain. Perhaps this search might actually need to be formally added to the action item list during the months running up to childbirth!

    Out of curiosity, I myself took the quiz, and one question which I had looked into previously struck me again - how many days of obligation? The answer seems not straightforward since, other than Sundays, I understand there to be potentially a difference in observance from country to country across the world by prior Vatican approval. So what would be an acceptable answer?


  6. Dear Tom

    In the Archdiocese of Singapore, the days of Obligation for Catholics to participate at the Sacrifice of the Mass are as follows:
    Ascension Thursdays, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, All Saints' Day and Christmas. On top of these are of course, all Sundays. A lot of people tend to think that Good Friday is a day of obligation. It is not. In fact, there are no masses on that day, so technically speaking, it is wrong to say 'Good Friday Mass'.