Friday, January 11, 2013

Let's talk about Baptism and Godparents

This is my bulletin column for the coming weekend, the Feast of the Lord's Baptism.


How fast the time goes! We began this Christmas season thinking about Jesus coming to earth as a baby, and now we’re at the point of Jesus’ life where Our Lord is about thirty years old! Still, if Baptism brings us into the life of the Church, then Baptism is a “second birth” for anyone baptized, whether as a baby, a child, or an adult. This also gives me a chance to remind everyone about some of the FAQs (“Frequently Asked Questions”) Priests and Deacons receive about the Sacrament of Baptism, most of which involving Godparents:

1. Naming someone a Godparent for your child does not officially make them the guardian of the child, should something happen to you. Church law says that a Godparent should be chosen because this is a person “who will help the baptized to lead a Christian life in harmony with baptism.” If you want to officially name someone guardian of your children in case of death, that’s what a Will is for. A Godparent has no rights in civil law.

2. A person being baptized may have either one or two Godparents. If one Godparent is chosen, they can be either male or female. But if there are two Godparents, there must be one male and one female. For the most part, infants being baptized tend to have two Godparents, while adults being baptized tend to have only one.

3. Godparents, ideally, should be Catholics, since their primary role is to help the parents raise the child in the Catholic faith. The Church does permit a baptized Christian (Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, etc.) to serve as a “Christian Witness”, but in this case there must also be a Catholic Godparent. Because Godparents and Christian Witnesses are asked to profess their faith in Jesus Christ, non-Christians may not be Godparents.

4. Now, the biggie! The Catechism (par. 1255) says, “For the grace of Baptism to unfold, the parents’ help is important. So too is the role of the godfather and godmother, who must be firm believers, able and ready to help the newly baptized – child or adult – on the road of Christian life.” A Godparent should not be chosen just because they’re your best friend or a sibling or because they cried because you did not ask them the last time. When you ask someone to be a Godparent, you’re asking him/her to take on what I wrote above: to help the child lead a Christian life. How can they do this if they’re not practicing their Catholic faith themselves? If you wanted to learn to play the piano, would you hire someone who used to play but hasn’t touched the piano in 20 years? I have to say that most of the “angry” calls received at the Rectory have been about telling someone I couldn’t give them a sponsor certificate. Yes, I know you were baptized here. Yes, I know you went to Catholic school or CCD.  It's wonderful that, back in the day, you were an altar server for Msgr. Fillintheblank.  But that’s not enough. What have you been doing since then? Are you registered at a Parish? Do you attend Mass regularly (each week)?  If you are married, is the marriage recognized by the Catholic Church?

5. This goes out to either expectant parents who are planning to ask someone to be a Godparent, or maybe you yourself have been asked (or you’re pretty sure you’re going to be asked) to be a Godparent. First, congratulate yourself; it’s an honor to be asked. Second, know what you’re committing to: in God’s eyes, you are going to be “bonded” to the person being baptized. Not just for the 20 minutes of the ceremony; for the rest of your life.  You will be asked by the Church to make a vow, committing to work with the child’s parents to help him/her to see their faith as an important part of their life. Yes, it’s work. On the practical level, it might mean driving your Godchild to or from CCD classes when you’d rather stay in. It should mean sending a card to your Godchild every year on the anniversary of their Baptism. But it could also mean challenging or confronting your Godchild’s parents if they begin to slip in their practice of the faith (for example, they’ve stopped going to Mass or they’re more faithful to their child’s sports leagues than they are to God and the Church).  It means helping them keep their faith through their teen years, when they're likely to rebel against any authority.  It means being there when they're thinking of marriage or a religious vocation or need to be talked out of living with their boy- or girlfriend.  Hey, no one said this was going to be easy. So if you’ve been asked to be a Godparent, and you haven’t been that good at practicing your faith, you can always begin again. As soon as you’re asked to be the child’s Godparent (even if the baby has not been born yet), start attending Sunday Mass. Make sure you’re registered at a parish. Make sure the parish clergy know you’re going to Mass each week (either by making a point of stopping and shaking their hand after Mass each week, or by making sure your offering envelope is in the collection so it can be logged in, showing you were at Mass).

6. The Catholic Church has never refused anyone a Sponsor Certificate because they don’t like him or her. We don’t give a Sponsor Certificate when we cannot, in good conscience, certify that the person is a practicing Catholic (remember, we answer to God, too). Finally, if we can’t give you or your loved one a Sponsor Certificate, please don’t say, “This is why people leave the Church”. Truthfully, the person who is not getting the certificate already left the Church, whether you want to admit it or not. Don’t try to convince us that, if you or your loved one get the Sponsor Certificate, that you or they will start coming to Church again. The certificate is not about what you’re going to do, but what you’ve been doing (or not doing). Don’t bring up the fact that someone else you know got a Sponsor Certificate and you don’t think they should’ve. Maybe we know something you don’t, or maybe neither of us know the whole story. Similarly, don’t express your displeasure by bringing up the Crusades, the Inquisition, Galileo, annulments received by any of the Kennedys, or any other item in the past. None of them had anything to do with the fact that you’re not getting the sponsor certificate. Rather than storming out the door to tell everyone what the mean Church wouldn’t give you, ask calmly what the person could do in order to be a good Godparent. You might find out the solution is pretty easy.


Helene said...

Love it! Perfect! I wish I could give it my pastor to put in the bulletin.

Christopher M. Zelonis said...

Fellow Father,
Thank you for the clarity and charity with which you address this matter, which we can expect to be increasingly prevalent as Catholics of "Generation X" and younger become parents and/or spouses. I have linked this article to my own blog and offered some thoughts. I am often seized by the thought that many Catholic parents know fewer and fewer faithful Catholics, and their siblings or other relatives aren't necessarily faithful either; so how will they be able to find, much less select, eligible persons to be Godparents? There is much food for prayer and conversation here.

ProudCatholic said...

AMEN! It's nice to know this is being observed as the Holy Mother Church has instructed in her wisdom. Not to mention, it is plain common sense too!

ProudCatholic said...

It is wonderful to hear this being strictly observed! Too many look the other way on this very important responsibility. Our Mother Church in Her wisdom has instructed this and even common sense dictates this. Too many look at baptism in a secular light--party, photos, etc. Those who deny this are responsible for that child's soul!

Father Christensen said...

Dear Father - what a wonderful bulletin article! I like it so much that I am steeling it for my own bulletin (don't worry, I give you credit!). It was just too good not to "Borrow" for my own bulletin.

On a different note, I love your coat of arms. I'm currently working on one for myself. I'm curious though why you have two tassels instead of just one?

Father Jay Toborowsky said...

I'm honored you would want to borrow it. In retrospect, the only thing I would "tweak" in it would be to change points 5 and 6 with each other. That would end the article on a positive note, instead of the negatives of complaining. Just my opinion.

As for the tassels, I serve as a Vicar Forane (a Dean), and as long as I do so, I am entitled to 2 on each side. When I'm no longer Dean, it properly goes back to 1 on each side.

Father Christensen said...

I thought there would be an explanation about the coat of arms. Makes total sense. Who did your coat of arms, if you don't mind me asking?

Father Jay Toborowsky said...

Father Guy Selvester, a Priest of my diocese, is a heraldic artist who has done several coats of arms for priests, bishops, and even a cardinal or two. He is rector of the Blessed Sacrament Shrine in Raritan, NJ. If you search that on Google, I'm sure you'll get his contact information. He gave me the coat of arms as a gift for my 10th anniversary of ordination.