When my son was born, my husband and I were trying to figure out why he never slept, why he was having trouble eating, why he seemed perpetually uncomfortable or upset. One of the few things we knew for sure was that we wanted him to be baptized.
As it turned out, Baptism itself brought up many questions for us, both before and after he was born. How soon should we request that Sacrament for him? Would we be instructed by someone from the parish about how to fulfill our commitment to raise him in the faith? What were the requirements for Godparents? Whom should we ask to take on those roles for him? What would they say when we asked them?
I remember my husband looking through the Catechism and poking around online to try to get answers to the questions about Godparents. He compared a few guidelines and recommendations, and we quickly settled on a Catholic couple that we truly admired, but we weren’t that close to them, and we didn’t know if they would say yes. As we understood it, they would be committing to helping us impart the faith to our son, and, more specifically, they would be willing to pray for him for the rest of their lives. To me, this seemed like a huge commitment. Frankly, it was a lot easier for me to entertain the notion of giving gifts to a child at Baptism and Confirmation than agreeing to keep him in my prayers forever. It was hard to ask that from someone else. But we did ask, and they did say yes; they even seemed enthusiastic about it. I started to get a glimmer then of how indebted I would be to that couple, but as the months and years have gone by, I have been awed to see how their generous help and counsel have shaped our family.
I was a brand new Catholic myself when our son was born, and I had no idea how to make a faith-filled home for a child to grow up in (I’m still taking advice). When our families would get together, I would desperately fire off question after question: “How do you celebrate the holidays? How do you talk to your children about the priesthood and religious life? What do you do about TV? How should we handle difficult relationships in our extended family? What does assisting at Mass look like with a baby carseat in the pew? What books do you read to your children? What prayers do you say with them?” Etc. In addition to this barrage of questions, I asked for their prayers. Prayers for sleep, prayers for appointments to go well, prayers for clarity about tricky questions. This couple has a special stake in my son’s formation, and, though I don’t want to be presumptuous, I do feel able to ask them for counsel and prayers, even at the risk of being overly personal or overwhelming them because I know they want the best for our son.
It is startling to think about a child receiving a whole second set of parents at Baptism. It strikes me as shockingly munificent, like being given a new house or a personal airplane – kind of out-of-this-world generous. It’s a gift to the child to have a special connection to a devout man and woman who care about and pray for him, and it’s a huge gift to the parents too. We have people to ask—to confide in—about something very close to our hearts. This couple’s self-deprecating responses to my many questions helped to give me what books and instructions about the faith pointed to, but couldn’t flesh out – a sense of how faithful people live out their lives in their own homes.
In a very indirect way, this has deepened my love for the Eucharist. To recognize the great gift of Godparents -- and to see in it God’s care for the souls of my children --deepens my love for Him. Where can I meet Him? How can I thank Him? I can thank Him for this and for the gift of His very self when he comes into my heart at Communion.
“My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God. For the sparrow hath found herself a house, and the turtle a nest for herself where she may lay her young ones.” (Psalm 83)
~ Cecelia Skinner