Q. In 1995, I was godmother at the baptism of my brother’s daughter. A few years later, it turned out that I adopted her and have raised her as my own. (She is now 27.) Then, in 2010, I served as godmother for my sister’s daughter and, the following year, wound up taking custody of her as well and eventually adopting her. (She is making her first Communion this month.)
I took my role as godmother very seriously — sending both girls to Catholic schools — but it seems that they’ve been “cheated” out of having godmothers. I’m just “Mom” to them now, and it would be nice to have someone else take an interest in their Catholic upbringing. (Sometimes a mom’s voice just becomes “white noise.”) Actually, they are both fine, but I’ve always wondered about this and would appreciate your suggestions. (Frederick, Maryland)
A. There is wisdom in the church’s rule that parents may not serve as baptismal godparents for their own children. This ensures that someone else will serve as a proxy, looking out for the child’s religious and spiritual development if the parents fail or are unable to do so.
But a godparent is much more than a “fallback” — and more than a ceremonial accessory on the day of baptism. Being a godparent involves a lifelong commitment to spiritual support, encouragement and mentoring.
For this reason, it is required in canon law that the godparent 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” (Code of Canon Law 874.3). A godparent, then, should not be selected simply to placate family members or to honor a friend who may not be religiously committed.
There is no provision in canon law for the formal replacement of a godparent. The godparent’s name has been inscribed in the parish’s baptismal registry, and history cannot be undone. But in the letter-writer’s situation — and I admire her concern for her children’s continued guidance — why not do this?
Choose a trusted friend or family member who is an example of religious fidelity and might be willing to step in and help guide your daughters’ growth as Catholics. Additionally, when it comes time for your younger daughter to be confirmed, that same person might well be an ideal confirmation sponsor.
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(Editor’s Note: Recently, a reader asked whether motorists should stop to give money to those begging on street corners. While acknowledging the traffic safety concerns, I confessed that I myself find it difficult, especially as a priest, to pass someone by and so I regularly offer a few dollars. Responses to the column arrived immediately — and varied widely, as seen in the sampling below.)
Q. I disagree with your willingness to give out of “kindness.” Public safety is of foremost importance and should be the priority. I consider myself a generous person, but I try to find other ways to help the homeless and the needy. (City of origin withheld)
Q. I could not agree with you more. Even minor help could mean the difference between life and death, especially in adverse weather. (I cannot obsess over how the recipient chooses to use the donation.) (Albany, New York)
Q. I disagree vehemently with your answer. My family had firsthand knowledge of a drug-addicted friend who used this method to support his habit. (He would stand on the highway median with a cardboard sign and collect hundreds of dollars each day.) If, as you say, you would prefer to err on the side of kindness, you could do what we do and carry granola bars and bottled water in your car. (Elkton, Virginia)
Q. In a recent column, you were asked about panhandlers. Our pastor has suggested giving out gift cards for Subway. No cash, but a nourishing meal. (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)
Q. I think a more appropriate way to help panhandlers is to give dollar gift certificates to McDonald’s instead of cash. I have read that Cardinal Dolan keeps several of those with him when he takes his walks in New York City parks. Cash is usually used for illegal purposes — or items other than food. (Newark, Ohio)
A. One of the aims of this column is to generate ideas. I’m grateful for the response, and I hope readers have learned from the suggestion of food vouchers. (I know I have.)
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.