Thursday, January 17, 2013


I have been contemplating the unique role of godparents this month, since my husband and I began the new year by celebrating the baptismal date of our sweet goddaughter with a family dinner. We lit her baptismal candle for a song and prayer with her family, and she opened a gift from us with dessert. The evening was treated as a spiritual birthday party and it was absolutely perfect.

We have waffled in the past about which traditions we would like to create and continue. We felt so glad to find one which fit so beautifully for the early years. Unfortunately for us, our other godchildren live out of state. So we are giving some serious thought to what we can do which would have the most lasting significance, as the children are growing.

My own godmother lives in India, and we wrote to each other when I was young. I would marvel at her letters written on parchment paper sent in crinkly blue envelopes with foreign stamps. She came to my First Holy Communion, and my wedding, and she always remembered me in prayer, with lovely gifts, and gave me the best advice. She has been like a spiritual mother to me all throughout my life.

I did a little reading about the origin of godparents in our early Church history. As I understand it, the tradition first began during the rule of the Roman Empire when the Church was being persecuted. The sacraments of initiation were all performed together, and it was critical to appoint a guardian for each Christian child in the event that the parents were martyred. The role of the godparent sponsor was not only to make the profession of faith on behalf of the infant, as well as to promise to instruct that child in the faith if his parents had failed in their duty to do so…but also to pledge to assist them in preparing for the remaining sacraments and helping them to live out their call to the Christian life.

The Arnolfini Portrait, by Jan van Eyck 1434
So much more than a warm and fuzzy title, this is a spiritual parenthood we are taking on. Just like with most roles and positions in our faith, the higher the honor, the more true servanthood it requires. This is clearly about so much more than having people bow to kiss your hand every time they see you (no disrespect to the Godfather Trilogy, of course).

I spoke with some women in the Catholic community of Bryan/College Station and asked for some of their experiences. For Stephanie Arnold, having godparents was truly a way for her to experience the faithful love of God. She grew up in a family which she felt let her down in many ways, and her godmother was always there in her moments of need. “I chose my patron saint after her, St. Joan of Arc,” Stephanie says.  ”And their children have become my children’s godparents now. They come from out of town to every single celebration for our kids, and whenever they are with all of our kids, they pray a rosary together.”

Jessica Gerngross is blessed to be part of a big family and shares several godchildren of varying ages with her husband. “With our teenaged godchildren, we usually send them for example a Matthew Kelly book, or media like the Matt Mahr cd or a movie like The Nativity Story. We also send Kerusso shirts.” Another treasured family tradition is to send godchildren a Fontanini figurine to add to their own nativity scene when they begin their own home. “Also, we try to stay current with our godchildren by sending them texts and emails, and we try to send to them good articles that we’ve read,” Gerngross says.

For convert Terri Duhon, living in a Catholic community is helping her to establish the Catholic roots she so desires for her children. She says of her eldest daughter’s godmother “she marks her baptism birthday every year and shares memories and pictures of the day. My daughter looks forward to hearing the story of her baptism.”
We will all come from different backgrounds in our Catholic heritage, some of us will be richly blessed by years of tradition, and others will feel as if they are starting from scratch. But as parents and godparents we must try to get the most important thing right, we must remember to walk the extra mile to make a spiritual investment in the lives of our godchildren. It may come in the form of money on special days, or treasured books or keepsakes. Maybe it is letter writing or becoming a source of constant prayer and making it known. Whatever it may be, it is sure to make a difference when that difference is needed most!

“Then, too, from the day when we first heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and requesting that you be filled with the knowledge of his will, with all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of God, being pleasing in all things, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened in every virtue, in accord with the power of his glory, with all patience and long suffering, with joy, giving thanks to God the Father, who has made us worthy to have a share in the portion of the saints, in the light.”  Colossians 1:10

Any traditions or memories you can share with us here? Please do!

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