When you try to write a blog regularly and are in need of subject material, you sometimes need to look to the newspapers to find information or ideas. At other times, things happen to come your way for no particular reason, provided that you are paying attention to the world around you, and not ignoring the direction in which you may be led. This means being open to the possibility of perceiving the connections to be made even if you cannot see why.
This morning on the way to work, my bus passed a young couple in their early to mid-20’s. The young woman had pale, celtic features and dark, long, curly hair piled on top of her head, and was visibly rather pregnant; she looked as though she was in some distress. She was clutching tightly to the right arm of the light-haired, preppy young man with her, who was holding what looked to be a large, quilted baby bag, like women often take with them when they are going into the hospital to give birth. My guess is that they were walking across the circle, to George Washington University Hospital a few hundred yards from where I saw them; let us hope that it goes well for all.
Now as it happens, last evening I received an email from a good friend containing the first pictures of him with his wife and their new baby girl, just home from the hospital. And within some minutes of this, another good friend told me of his baby son’s need to visit a pediatric specialist today for a consultation on a possible surgery; he texted me a smiling photo of the two of them together this morning. Since there appears to have been a plethora of baby-related incidents crossing my radar over the past twelve hours, and I am trying my best to pay attention, I suppose this means I ought to write something about having children.
Of course, the problem is that I do not have any biological children of my own. Nor am I a teacher, with a new crop of children every school year to tend to, nor a priest, with a flock of children to shepherd in my parish. Indeed, as our departing pastor noted at mass recently, before being transferred to a large suburban parish with many children, he would suddenly find himself the spiritual father of many, many children, whom he would have to guide and help raise in the Church – a daunting task to be sure, though one he is more than up to fulfilling. That being, said, this spiritual fatherhood is perhaps something which those of us in the laity ought to consider in our own lives a bit more closely, even if we ourselves are not blessed with children, if we happen to be a godparent or a confirmation sponsor.
In my own case, I have a goddaughter who was born here in the United States, but is now living in England, and whom I have not seen for a couple of years. There was a time when, in love with her smallness and funny nature, I would make a point of going up to visit her several weekends out of the year, just to be able to spend time with her. Once she moved away that ended, of course. Now she is in primary school, has made her First Communion, and is busy with friends and activities. And as happens in such instances, there can be a drifting apart due both to the absence of physical separation, and the child growing older.
Perhaps the lesson or reminder here for me is that I made a promise, in front of God and Father George Rutler – difficult to know which one I ought to be more careful about displeasing – that I would do my best to make sure my goddaughter receives the guidance and example she needs to grow in her spirituality. At this distance, that role must be largely left to her parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and teachers, but that fact alone does not get me off the hook. The godparent always has a role to play throughout the life of the person whom they have agreed to watch over in the Faith, as the Catechism tells us:
1255 For the grace of Baptism to unfold, the parents’ help is important. So too is the role of the godfather and godmother, who must be firm believers, able and ready to help the newly baptized—child or adult—on the road of Christian life. Their task is a truly ecclesial function (officium). The whole ecclesial community bears some responsibility for the development and safeguarding of the grace given at Baptism.
Thus, even though I may be neither a father in either the biological or in the roman collar sense, I am still a spiritual father to a little English girl. She needs some periodic guidance and reminders from me to say her prayers, obey her parents, and partake in the life of the Church, and I am responsible for attempting to at least do that to some extent for the rest of her life. And that, gentle reader, is a more important realization or reminder for me this morning, rather than the question of simply coming up with a blog topic.
Detail of “The Seven Sacraments Altarpiece” by Rogier van der Weyden (c. 1445-1450)
Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp