Magazine article U.S. Catholic

An Offer You Can't Refuse

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

An Offer You Can't Refuse

Article excerpt

I HAVE BEEN ASKED TO BE A GODFATHER THREE times--twice for nephews and once for the daughter of dear friends. In fact, I am the co-godfather of this delightful young lady, and at her baptism, some years ago, we godfathers held her suspended between us like a tiny chicken, each man holding a goddaughterly wing, and so angelically she was received into the church.

In addition to godfathering three children, I am blessed to be the father of three more, also two boys and a girl, and in this capacity I have, with my wife, asked friends and family to be the godparents of our children. Each time the choice was very carefully made, and just as carefully and respectfully accepted. Just a few months ago my wife and I asked two men and two women to be the godparents of our new twin sons, and while the custom is fresh in my mind, I am moved to ponder its odd power in a modem Catholic life.

Like many Catholic traditions, the roots of godparenting are mysterious. One theory is that the custom is traceable to the Roman Empire, in which Christianity began and from which the faith drew many of its habits. In that august society there was little vertical mobility, and so patrons or benefactors from the class above were sought after, especially for children. A good father would very much wish to have his child "related" to a powerful or prestigious patron. When the empire became officially Christian, the habit of patronage took on a theological cast, and so, goes the theory, began the practice of designating godparents at Baptism.

Another theory evolves from the fact that the practice of designating spiritual relatives predates Christianity itself. Among many ancient peoples (the Celts in Europe, the Salish in North America, for example), one or more members of the clan would be asked by the parents to pay special attention to the spiritual growth of a new child. In Europe, where the English language developed from Germanic roots, the habit of godparenting is evident in the language. The original meaning of the word gossip was "Godsibling," and a godparent was considered to have such a close spiritual relationship with a godchild that the church at one time forbade a godparent and godchild from marrying each other.

Nearly four years ago my wife and I chose godparents for our first child. Like choosing Lily's name, the choice of godparents was surprisingly hard because we took it very seriously. …

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