A godmother. There is almost something mystical about the term. Children’s fairy tales are full of these kind, magical figures who always make things turn out right. That enchanting impression of a godmother infiltrates the Christian understanding of a godmother in reality, too.
When I was a little girl, my godmother tried to convince me that she would get me the coveted horse to stay in my backyard; I just needed to ask. Somehow, I did not doubt that she was capable of doing so — she was my “fairy” godmother, after all! What held me back was the knowledge that my parents would probably evict the horse from our shed just as quickly as it arrived.
Of course, it is fun for a godparent to spoil her godchildren with gifts and treats. However, the Catholic Church asks more of a godparent, which allows the relationship between godmother and godchild to grow even deeper and more special.
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During the Sacrament of Baptism, the godparents stand alongside the catechumen as the consecrated water is poured over her head, as she is anointed with sacred chrism and clothed in a white garment, and as she receives a candle lit from the Easter candle. If the person being baptized is an infant, then the parents and godparents even answer in the child’s name that she rejects Satan and sin and that she believes in Jesus Christ and the precepts of the Church. The parents and godparents are promising to raise that child in the Catholic faith. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms, “faith must grow after Baptism” (No. 1254).
Baptism is not a culmination, but a new beginning in the lifelong journey of faith in God. The role of a godparent is essential in a baptized child’s faith journey: “For the grace of baptism to unfold, the parents’ help is important. So, too, is the role of 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. Their task is a truly ecclesial function. The whole ecclesial community bears some responsibility for the development and safeguarding of the grace at Baptism (CCC, No. 1255).
In other words, a godmother is hardly a frilly role. A strong Catholic herself, the godmother must be a guide for her godchild throughout her life, teaching her about the Church and nourishing her faith in God along the way. The expectations can be quite daunting when considering what may be in that child’s future. Thankfully, a godmother is not working alone. Just like any vocation, when God calls someone to be a godparent, he gives her the grace to fulfill the role the best that she can. God is working through her, continuing to use the grace that she received at her own long-ago baptism.
When my sister and brother-in-law asked me to be the godmother of their coming child, I was thrilled! I was so excited to have a little godchild to buy gifts for, take on outings to the park, and teach how to bake cookies or pump on the swings. With no children of my own, I also took my role as a godparent very seriously. I prayed that I would be a good example of faith for this child, and I looked forward to telling her Bible stories and showing her how to pray the Rosary. I also prayed for her every day.
My little goddaughter was born just a couple of days before I was admitted to the hospital for a stem-cell transplant. This meant that I could not be present for her baptism. My mother stood in as my proxy. My brother-in-law kindly Facetimed the entire service so I could be there virtually. Since I have come home, I have had the opportunity to spend time with my goddaughter when she visits or when my mother and I babysit her. I enjoy watching her grow and making her smile. Of course, I spoil her with cute little baby outfits, but there are many faith-based gifts out there, perfect for a young godchild. I particularly recommend the “Tiny Saints” board books that I read aloud to my little goddaughter. It won’t be long before she has collected the entire series.
Recently, my goddaughter stayed home with me while the rest of the family went to Mass. Unable to go anywhere while recovering from my transplant, I am grateful that some parishes continue to livestream their Masses. The baby and I settled down with her bottle before the computer to participate in Mass the best that we could. For a little one, she was very observant. I told her about her First Communion in seven or so years — how she will wear a pretty white dress and how all the family will be praying for her. And I especially told her how she will get to receive Jesus in such a special way, nourishing her body and soul. Of course, she does not understand any of this now, but the baby did look at me and coo with delight while I talked to her.
It is never too early to tend the soil around those seeds of faith planted at baptism. We are here to help each other grow in faith and get to heaven. The Catholic Church knew this when the role of a godparent was instituted. That may be the greatest challenge of being a godmother, but it is also the greatest joy!