By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published March 13, 2008
Several weeks ago a wonderful gentleman from one of our parishes called me with a question that I had never faced before in nearly 25 years as a bishop. It seems that he had been invited to serve as the confirmation sponsor for one of our teenagers, and he was deeply honored by that request. In fact, he took the young man’s invitation in a way far more serious than I have ever encountered before. He asked me what was required of him to be that young man’s sponsor. He wanted to know how he could fulfill his responsibilities since he was not a family member, and he presumed that the young man would soon go off to college in a couple of years and would be far removed from his spiritual influence.
I was edified by the sincerity of his inquiry. I assured him that the duties of sponsors for the spiritual growth of their candidates were indeed important and that he could best fulfill them by making sure that he contacted the young man’s parents to assure them that he wanted to be a good example for their son. He should make sure that he greeted the teenager when they met at Mass. He could write the youngster a note that extended his sincere intention to pray for him, to be available to him in the future. His interest in this young man’s spiritual development could extend even to his college years with a note every now and then asking about his growth in the faith and his continued development as a Catholic gentleman.
Never before had a sponsor approached me with such a serious desire to fulfill his duties toward a candidate. It caused me to reflect on how sponsors are often selected by our youngsters and their parents. Usually the honor goes to a grandparent, a baptismal godparent, an aunt or uncle, an older sibling, or a dear family friend. The Catholic Church has fairly indulgent requirements for those who would serve as a confirmation sponsor. Generally they must be at least 16 years of age, having themselves received the sacraments of initiation, and be a practicing Catholic. This gentleman, however, caused me to reflect upon the importance that a sponsor should have in the life of our youngsters as they approach the sacrament of confirmation. Generally, young people choose those that they know and already love. Parents usually may suggest a worthy nominee for their youngster. But in the end, it usually falls to someone who is familiar to both the teenager and his or her parents.
Whoever made the final selection of this gentleman chose extremely well. He realized that he was embarking upon an important relationship with that young man, and he wanted to do the best job that he could. Just the sincerity of his interest in and concern for the youngster’s spiritual development was an indication that the teenager would be secure at least in this man’s prayers.
Since we are about to begin a concentrated period of the celebration of the sacrament of confirmation in the weeks following Easter, I think it might be helpful for me to remind our parents and youngsters in their consideration of just who will fulfill that role in the lives of our confirmandi. Occasionally, I have noticed that the sponsor who has been chosen does not even receive the Eucharist at the confirmation Mass. There may be many appropriate reasons for this. Perhaps the person is in a marriage that has not been reconciled with the Catholic Church. Perhaps the sponsor has been absent from the sacrament of reconciliation for a long time and is not prepared to receive Holy Communion. Perhaps the sponsor has some other unresolved spiritual issue in his or her life and does not feel worthy to approach the Eucharistic table. Yet by that very absence from the reception of the Eucharist at the confirmation ceremony, they are not fulfilling what they have just agreed to do—provide a good spiritual example for their candidate.
If you have been chosen as a sponsor for one of our candidates for confirmation, I urge you to prepare yourself to assume those duties with a good confession or if there is another difficulty to consult a priest or even to speak with the candidate or a parent and suggest that some other person might be a better selection as sponsor. While it might be somewhat embarrassing or disappointing for the youngster and for their family, it would ensure that the candidate had a sponsor who would be able right from the beginning to provide that good example of faith that will encourage them to take seriously the gift of their Catholic Faith that is a treasure too often undervalued and misunderstood in today’s world.