Wednesday, September 11, 2019 - Updated: 3:04 pm
QUESTION: I am the godmother of a child of longtime friends. While I still attend Mass and practice my Catholic faith, the child’s parents no longer do. The child, therefore, is not being raised as a Catholic. What are my obligations to this child?
ANSWER: The opening dialogue of the Rite of the Baptism of Children is helpful in responding to this question.
The parents of the child are addressed: “You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training him/her in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring him/her up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?”
The godparents are then asked: “Are you ready to help the parents of this child in their duty as Christian parents?” Two things are significant here.
First, the primary responsibility of religious education (both by teaching and example) belongs to the parents. Secondly, the primary role of the godparents is directed toward the parents.
Your role as godparent, therefore, suggests that your efforts must first be directed toward the parents, not the child. Depending on your relationship with those parents it might be helpful to initiate a discussion with them.
The starting point of the discussion probably should not begin with accusations or attributing blame, but rather with your own honest feelings. Attempt to convey to them your own feelings regarding the role they asked you to play several years ago. In any case it must be done with sincerity and tact because you are dealing with the sensitive area of moral responsibility. It may be that the parents are also feeling some of the same emotions as you, and your discussion could be a stimulus for genuine change in their lives.
An additional and very important way you might exercise your role in this matter is by good example in living your own Catholic faith. If you are able to maintain a good relationship with the parents and the child, perhaps as the child grows older that relationship will bear fruit. If no religious education is being provided, the curiosity of the child may raise questions about God, Christ, heaven or hell as well as the meaning of feasts such as Christmas and Easter. If the child sees a person who practices the Catholic faith, their questions might be directed first to the ones they know for whom faith seems important.
You might also continue to exercise some influence in the child’s (and parent’s) life by your seasonal communication. It is certainly appropriate to send a godchild a card at Christmas, Easter or on a birthday, or even the date of the baptism. Why not allow the card to speak of the religious dimension of these observances. Written in a way that encourages and not accuses, such thoughtful reminders can often be a real challenge to find religious meaning in the special events of our lives.
Beyond these ideas, there are few ways in which anyone can interfere in the role of parents in the religious formation of a child.
Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.