Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

12 January 2013

Sacramental Sponsorship: Supernatural Selection

My point of departure for this post is a blog post by Fr. Jay Toborowsky of the blog "Young Fogeys" on the subject of the selection and qualifications of a baptismal sponsor (Godparent).

I am not posting the article to dispute with its Reverend Author, nor would I offer my own experiences as a corrective to, or corroboration with, his experience and understanding.  As I see it, we are brother priests who face days that, I sadly note, many elder brother priests are glad to say are more behind them than ahead of them.
"Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days." (Mt 24:19)
This much I can say with certainty: Fr. Toborowsky and all priests want people to grow in appreciation for the dignified role of the Godparent of a Catholic, and a fortiori, the Parent of a Catholic.  In practice, Godparents do not spend the same quality or quantity of time with children as their parents do.  While for various reasons a priest may refuse or defer authorization for a person to be a Godparent, he certainly can't do that for a person to be a parent.  That's God's call.  But the responsibilities of a parent are more grave and immediate, so the challenge is first to be issued to our parents (see image below).

Copyright whoever. It's a Michelin ad, so they can send me a couple of bucks for using their slogan.
Or free tires for life--that'll work.
The Church does not (cannot!) forbid non-practicing Catholics (or non-practicing anything) to be parents; and yet parents are charged to be the "first teachers in the practice of the faith...[and] the best of teachers" (Rite of Baptism).

We don't like to refuse Baptism to a child, though Church Law permits us to defer Baptism (Can. 868)  when the practice of the faith is non-existent--when the child doesn't currently inhabit a "village" that will raise it or a "culture" that will cultivate it.  I suspect that deferral is, in practice, not very common; that priests look for any reason (grasping at straws, even) to baptize.

Furthermore, we don't like to refuse anyone the recognition to be an Auxiliary Parent (to coin a fitting euphemism for godparent). The Romans used to say, "nemo dat quod non habet" (no one gives what he doesn't have), so how can we comfortably attest that a lapsed or weak Catholic will help to raise anything but the same (barring, of course, the grace of God who does far more than we can ever ask or imagine)?

The Church is not cruel, deferring or refusing just so people do what "we" want them to do, to toe the line.  (This creates a climate of tacit approval of laxity, anyhow, and we'd have to answer for that.)  But the Church must not abdicate her role as "mother and teacher" of the faithful.  Like it or not, that role puts priests in the position of enforcing rules that we did not make.  Rules regarding eligibility for sponsorship have in mind people's full religious, spiritual, moral, etceteral flourishing.  We don't want anyone to settle for any sort of mediocrity.

||:   I have to hold myself to the same standard.  Is it too high a standard?  That question, honestly, remains open for me.  Perhaps my lack of committal to high standards of belief and practice is wishy-washy.  Until all Catholics are practicing the Faith with greater devotion, I will encourage people to that devotion, granting permissions as often as possible and refusals as few as possible.  Will this only encourage lax and insincere identification with the Catholic Faith?   :||

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