As we approach Theophany and turn our minds to the baptism of our Lord, I thought I would share another of our retreat topics from this past year. The following was compiled from the notes and outline from our speaker, the wife of a priest who has many godchildren of her own and much experience on the topic.
"Let my beseeching on behalf of these people be wholly acceptable, so that my transgressions may not prevent the descent here of the Holy Spirit." from the Great Blessing of the Waters at Theophany.
In our society, there is a huge emphasis on preparing for a wedding. We spend many months and thousands of dollars in planning the perfect day. Yet few couples invest time in preparing for marriage. Often, the same occurs in baptism. When most find they are asked to be a godparent, much emphasis is put on the actual day of baptism, finding the perfect gown, monogramming a towel, picking out the perfect cross, selecting or making the perfect candle. Yet few are prepared for the lifelong commitment they are making to that child. So, what is important to consider? First, as the parent of a new baby, it is important to consult with your priest before asking someone to become your child's godparent. Your priest may be aware of a situation that would make a person unsuitable as a godparent, or perhaps might just have some wise advice in suggesting a godparent for your child. The decision should not be made on the basis of being friends with someone or because you want to honor someone, rather you should prayerfully look for someone who will serve as a lifelong example of Christ. If you have been asked to become a godparent, take time before making the commitment. Don't feel pressured to answer right away, take time to pray about the decision and make sure you are ready to take on the responsibility of praying for this child's soul. For the parents who are asking, don't be offended if a prospective godparent asks for time to consider the request. This is not a personal affront to you. You want your child's godparents to be totally committed to your child, to prayerfully consider what is being asked of them. You also want to communicate clearly about expectations. If one person looks at a godparent as a substitute grandparent while another thinks a godparent means only praying for a child, misunderstandings will occur and feelings may be hurt. If you come to the decision of accepting this great honor and burden, here is some advice on how to serve the child that has been put in your care.
"Go to church, say your prayers, remember God," and your godchild.
First, go to church. As a godparent, you are taking on the role of instructor, serving as an example to your godchild. You want to maintain the sacramental life, participating in regular confession, communion and fasting. You should be at church at least as often as your godchild! Remember that you are teaching without words: your behavior, dress and actions are being observed by your godchild. When you fail, ask forgiveness.
Second, say your prayers. Pray for your godchild daily, and as needed. Let your godchild know you are praying for him, and ask him if there are things he would like you to pray about specifically. If your godchild has a specific prayer request, follow up with that later and see how his needs were met. Keeping a photo of your godchild or an icon of his patron saint is a wonderful way to remind you to keep the child in your prayers.
Third, remember God and your godchild. Remember you are entering a lifelong relationship. Be the kind of person your godchild would want to talk to, now and in the future. Remember birthdays, namedays, special feasts with a small gift, card or phone call. Small gifts that are spiritual in nature are a wonderful way to encourage your godchild in the faith. Remember that you are there for positive guidance, but not as a disciplinarian or "police" of your godchild. Give your godchild time. Make an effort to spend some occasional one on one time with your child, even if that is just a special moment at church. If your godchild lives far away, make the effort to occasionally visit. This is where phone calls and letters are important, keeping a bond long distance is difficult. Finally, just love them.
One of the hardest things to deal with as a godparent is when a family or child leaves the church. Here your role as a godparent becomes even more crucial. It is easy to be a godparent to a child with faithful parents who bring their child to church and are themselves involved in the sacramental life of the church. It is much harder to be an example for those who have rejected the church. Do not abandon your godchild, pray, remain in contact, continue to keep that line of communication open as you do not know what little moment God will use to bring that child or family back into communion.
Now, back to those immediate things. All that is needed for a baptism is a candle, a cross and a gown. Normally parents will provide the gown, so again, communicate clearly with your godchild's parents, ask them what they are expecting. A towel, bib and icon are additional gifts that are sometimes given by godparents at a baptism, but they are by no means necessary. Your local parish probably has many of these items in stock and there are many online resources as well. A candle can be easily made by gluing an icon to a plain candle, or painting a cross on it, or simply tying a ribbon around it. If you have been asked to sponsor an adult, it is important to communicate as well on these things, as most adults will want to have input concerning their cross or may perhaps already have one they wish to use.
Resources for "the stuff"