Q. 1. I have been asked to be the godfather of my nephew. I have never been anyone's godparent before. Before accepting, I would like to know what is expected of a godparent in the Catholic Church. Can you answer that question?
A. 1. When it relates to an adult, the sponsor's role is to assist the person in christian initiation. In the case of an infant baptism, the role is together with the parents, to present the child for baptism, and to help the child to live a christian life befitting the baptised and faithfully to fulfil the duties inherent in baptism." (Canon Law # 872)
In both cases, the principal responsibility of a godparent is to give witness to the Catholic faith by his words and actions. When it concerns a child, the godparent must be ready to accept the responsibility of being a part of the godchild's life for the remaining of his/her life.
A godparent must have his eyes fixed on the Lord, believing that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. [Jn. 14:6] Not only must he believe it, he must be prepared to share his belief with his godchild.
Within reason, a godparent must be available to his godchild on a continuous basis. He must have a special interest in the spiritual growth of the child.
When called upon to profess the Catholic faith on behalf of the infant, the godparent must believe in what he is professing.
Godparents should not be expected to be gift-givers. Some parents expect godparents to buy their children gifts on their birthdays, at Christmas, etc... When the Catholic Church saw the need for godparents in the early days of its history, it never intended them to be used as gift-givers. The greatest gifts that a godparent can give to a child is love, prayers and their continuous presence as a Christian model of faith.
Godparents should be there to teach the child:
that Jesus dwells in the Sacred Tabernacle,
to genuflex when passing in front of the Sacred Tabernacle,
how to properly make the Sign of the Cross,
how to bless oneself with holy water when entering the Catholic Church,
how to properly genuflex before entering the pews before Holy Mass, etc...
Nowadays, many children, including a large number of parents, are ignorant of the need to be silent in the Church before Holy Mass so others can pray and prepare themselves to participate in the Holy Mass. They have turned Churches into social clubs, a place to gather for the weekly gossip. When they do the sign of the cross, they do it backwards. When they enter the pews, they fail to genuflex. And the list goes on; it is disgraceful!
Keeping in mind that godparents are not "gift-givers", the "big day" should be remembered, that special day when the child was baptized and admitted into the Body of Christ. This is the time when the godparent should visit the child, make a telephone call, send an email or a card. If time permits and such is agreed by all the parties involved, the godparent should get together with the godchild for a few hours. This provides a perfect opportunity to witness to the child and teach him/her how he/she can witness to others when the opportunity is present. This is the time to:
take out a photo album and look at the photos of the child's baptism.
to explain the meaning of the baptismal candle.
to thank God for having chosen you as a godparent.
to say a prayer with the godchild, allowing the child to lead the prayer as he/she gets older.
This is the time, at the appropriate age, to give a gift to the child, such as a Bible, a Crucifix, a Rosary, a holy card, etc...