Using our Questions About Catholicism form, Tom Chan asks a very common question:
What does one do to prepare himself to be a godfather? I'm converting to Catholicism and named godfather to my newborn niece. What are my duties, roles, and what do I need to do?
The simple answer is: Be a good Christian. No, I'm not being glib. At the baptism of an infant, the godparents are asked, "What do you ask of God's Church?" They reply for the child: "Faith!"
That is why the best way for a man to fulfill his duties as a godfather is to grow in the Faith himself. Tom is on the right path already, as he comes into the fullness of the Christian Faith by uniting himself to the Catholic Church.
But the duties of godparents do not end with the baptism. The godparents, the current Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 1255) states, must be "able and ready to help the newly baptized . . . on the road of Christian life." That is why they must themselves be "firm believers." Therefore, the 1983 Code of Canon Law (Canon 874, Section 3) requires a godmother or a godfather to be "a Catholic who has been confirmed and has already received the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist and who leads a life of faith in keeping with the function to be taken on."
Being a godfather or godmother is a duty that lasts more than a day; it lasts a lifetime. As the child grows, the godparents should do what they can to ensure that the child receives a proper education in the Catholic Faith, to help (in the words of Canon 872 of the Code of Canon Law) "the baptized person to lead a Christian life in keeping with baptism and to fulfill faithfully the obligations inherent in it."
How the godparents do that will be different in every case. When the parents themselves are raising their child up properly in the Faith, the role of the godparent may be confined more to prayer for the child and providing the child with religious items and books, particularly on the anniversary of their baptism. Godparents should try, as well, to be present at important spiritual milestones in their godchildren's lives, such as First Communion, Confirmation, marriage, and ordination.
Should the parents or the child fall away from the Faith, however, the role of the godparents should be more active, gently trying to ensure that the child does continue "to lead a Christian life" and to grow in the Faith. Obviously, this can be a very touchy situation, especially when it is the parents who have fallen away. In such circumstances, do not hesitate to discuss the situation with your parish priest and to ask for his advice on how best to continue to fulfill your duties.
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