Six times a year I turn the page in my diary and feel a stab of remorse. There it is, etched in block capitals: “SAM’S BIRTHDAY NEXT WEEK”, followed by five similar warnings over the course of the year – one for every godchild’s birthday. My panicked scribbles reflect my guilt because I must confess I’m not a great godparent. Sending a birthday card on time is the least I should do.
But what else are godparents supposed to do? Pray for our godchildren is the obvious response, but this isn’t the part I struggle with most. I suppose that, like other godparents I have spoken to over the years, I just feel a bit lost as to how to be a good one.
According to the Code of Canon Law, godparents should “help the baptised to lead a Christian life in harmony with baptism, and to fulfil faithfully the obligations connected with it.” This interpretation is not exclusive to Catholicism: it is shared by the Church of England too. Yet the definition of a godparent today in reality has become so elastic it can border on the meaningless.
Kate and William chose a whopping seven godparents for Prince George, which is actually not unusual for royals. More than two godparents is also an increasingly common choice among the hoi polloi, especially for thoroughly nice English people who feel rude if they leave anyone out.
But what really struck me about Prince George’s christening was the media coverage. The Daily Telegraph reported: “From Olympian cousin Zara Philips to the new Duke of Westminster, the young prince is certainly not short of a few friends in high places.” It was as if journalists weren’t even bothering to pretend that godparenting is about God any more.
Don’t get me wrong: Kate and Wills may have chosen the godparents because they are all devoutly Christian. But the fact that the media barely considered the issue of faith shows that the role is no longer deemed to bear any relevance to Christianity.
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