J.M.J. Q. “What if I cannot find a suitable godparent for my child? At pre-Baptism class, the instructors advised me to find godparents who will make good examples of the Catholic Faith for my daughter. I’m not very active in church and don’t know many friends who are good, practicing Catholics. My relatives, to my knowledge, are not living the best Christian lives either. I’m sure there are good Catholics who live their faith well, but as I don’t know them personally. And even if I found one of them to be my child’s godparent, will it have any effect?"
A. The question you raise is, sadly, not uncommon.
The Code of Canon Law tells what the Church expects of godparents (or “sponsors”) for Baptism (and Confirmation).
Canon 872 informs us that the sponsor “assists an adult in Christian Initiation or together with the parents presents an infant for Baptism. A sponsor also helps the baptized person to lead a Christian life in keeping with Baptism and to fulfill faithfully the obligations inherent in it.”
Canon 873 declares: “There is to be only one male sponsor or one female sponsor or one of each.” (Hence, only one sponsor is absolutely required, but if there are two, one is to be male and the other, female.)
And Canon 874 asserts: §1. “To be permitted to take on the function of sponsor a person must: 1° be designated by the one to be baptized, by the parents or the person who takes their place, or in their absence by the pastor or minister and have the aptitude and intention of fulfilling this function; 2° have completed the sixteenth year of age, unless the Diocesan Bishop has established another age, or the pastor or minister has granted an exception for a just cause; 3° 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 (that is, who attends Holy Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation; if married, enjoys a marital union that is recognized by the Catholic Church; if unmarried, does not cohabitate with a person of the opposite gender); 4° not be bound by any canonical penalty legitimately imposed or declared; 5° not be the father or mother of the one to be baptized. §2. A baptized person who belongs to a non-Catholic ecclesial community is not to participate except together with a Catholic sponsor and then only as a witness of the Baptism.” (Hence, only a practicing Catholic can be a sponsor. A non-Catholic Christian may be a “witness.”)
You are humble about your lack of receiving the Sacraments (that can change now!) and that your friends and relatives don’t practice their Catholic Faith. You have escaped the trap that has ensnared many parents: the tendency to choose relatives as sponsors mainly because they are relatives, not because of their stellar Catholic lives.
Your pastor undoubtedly knows someone in your parish who would be an excellent sponsor. He may recommend a married couple to be your child’s sponsors. Invite them to your house so that they can meet your family.
Eventually, these sponsors will love your child. They will participate in your child’s life at special times by their prayers, good example and, if possible, their presence.
Does a godparent have an effect on a child? Certainly—either for good or ill. But the Church envisions that by ardent prayer and inspiring example, a sponsor will heartily encourage the child to follow Jesus Christ to Everlasting Life.
Mother immaculate, pray for us.