When I was a sophomore in college, I got to study abroad in Gaming, Austria. The experience itself was incredible, but one of the things from that semester that I am most grateful for is the friendship I developed with my roommate. We had barely met before the semester, but by the end of it, Kristen was one of my dearest friends.
Years later, when she and her husband were expecting their second child, they asked if I would be his godmother. To say I was honored would be an understatement… I was absolutely humbled… and totally excited!
John Paul is my only godchild (so far), but I’ve never actually met him. Kristen’s life took her to Minnesota, mine has taken me to Georgia, and neither of us is rolling in the dough which means that visits are few and far between. Despite the distance, I want to be a good godmother, I want to help John Paul grow in his faith. Throughout John Paul’s short life, I’ve tried a few different ways to do just that. Here are ten ways that I have tried (or plan to try in the future) to fulfill those promises the proxy made for me at his Baptism.
- Pray Constantly — Whenever John Paul (or Kristen) pops into my head, I say a prayer for my godson. Sometimes it’s just a “lifting” of the thought to God as an offering, sometimes it’s a Hail Mary, sometimes it’s a little more in-depth.This is such a small and easy thing, but so powerful. I am confidant that these prayers are helping John Paul grow in his faith, and I’m confidant that they’re also assisting his parents when it comes to staying sane while raising a few toddlers as well!
- Remember His/Her Baptismal Anniversary — Every year, at the beginning of November, my Uncle Jeff and Aunt Karen (my godparents) would send me a small package with a little gift to celebrate the anniversary of my Baptism. If it wasn’t for that, I don’t know if I would even remember that I was baptized on Nov. 12 — and you know, being baptized is kind of a big deal. I’m actually writing this because I am currently following the example of my own godparents. I just finished addressing a small package to John Paul; his own baptismal anniversary is later this week. It’s kind of cool to think about how the graces and help from my own godparents are now trickling down to my godson. (P.S. Aunt Karen, if you’re reading this, I still have all my gifts you sent me)
- Write Age-Appropriate Letters — John Paul loves mail. He loved getting a present in the mail for his birthday that he made his mom check the mail for more presents for the whole week after his party. I love mail too, and it’s one of my hobbies. Now that he’s older and more aware of reality, I’ve added him to my pen-pal rotation. Even if the letter is short, it’s still a big deal for a three-year old to get mail addressed to him specifically. I feel like this is really important for the two of us, since we have yet to meet each other in person. It helps John Paul to “know” me, and know that I care about him.
- Bargain Shopping — My job as his godmother is to help him grow in his faith. Thus, I’m always on the lookout for things I can send him that might help me in this task. Whether I’m at garage sales, resale stores or buying brand new, my eyes are usually peeled. I don’t spend a ton of money, and I don’t buy him anything huge. So far, it’s been a few Veggie Tales DVDs, but I have a few other specific items stashed away to spread out and send to him throughout the year as a “no-reason” surprise. **little sidenote: When John Paul was a baby, I sent him The Hungry Hungry Caterpillar and accompanying stuffed caterpillar. I wrote him a letter about finding holiness in ordinary things, and that I was praying he would always be “hungry” for his faith, so he could grow and transform like the critter in the book. I don’t know if the letter was saved or not (Kristen is pretty good about that stuff), but even so, especially as he is getting older, I want him to see how goodness, truth and beauty exist everywhere.
- Send a Card for the Feast Day of His/Her Namesake — Oct. 22nd is the feast day of John Paul II — who is my favorite saint and obviously the namesake of my godson. My namesake is St. Mary Magdalene (my middle name), whose feast is Jul. 22nd — and my confirmation saint is St. Cecilia, whose feast is Nov. 22nd. This is a tradition I plan to begin with my godson next year. I feel like it will be cool to tell him more and more about my experiences with these saints as the years progress. It’s a fun way to learn about the Communion of Saints and the ways in which we are all still connected.
- Offer a Mass for Him/Her, then Send Him/Her the Mass Card — As a child, they probably won’t appreciate it all that much, but the Mass is the most powerful prayer in existence. I want John Paul to be showered with graces throughout his entire life, and there is no better way to do this than to have a Mass offered especially for him. I also like to pick random days when I offer up my Mass attendance and reception of the Eucharist for him. It’s not as big of a deal as John Paul being the intention offered for the whole Mass, but it is still extremely powerful.
- Carry Him/Her on Pilgrimage with You — When Pope Francis came to America, I was able to go to Philadelphia as a chaperone with the high school I worked for. It was exhausting and exciting — as almost all pilgrimages are! Before we left, I went to our local Catholic bookstore and bought a bunch of medals, holy cards and scapulars to take with me so I could get them blessed by the Pope. I also bought a rosary for John Paul. I carried John Paul with me in spirit, offering some of my sufferings for his sake, and was able to gift him with a rosary blessed by the Holy Father. While this was probably a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, there are so many pilgrimages throughout the country that can be made. Whether it’s the National Basilica, the Portiuncula at Franciscan University, or a shrine dedicated to a specific saint, pilgrimage sites are everywhere — and the graces that accompany one throughout a pilgrimage, and then are poured out afterwards are abundant. “Carry” your godchild with you and let those graces overflow to him/her as well!
- Make a Prayer Book — I actually, cannot take credit for this idea. It was actually Kristen who made a prayer book for each of her children. She printed off pictures of all his aunts and uncles, friends, cousins, teachers, grandparents, godparents, etc. and put them into a book they flip through during prayers before bedtime. Kristen and her husband encourage their children to pray for those people in the pictures. While I did not make the book, I try to contribute by sending updated pictures of myself and my family to help John Paul think of specific things he can pray for. In the future, when he learns to read, I might send him some of my favorite prayers that he can add to his book.
- Fast — This is something I want to do, but have not done yet. Right now, my plan is to start this habit during Lent. I’ll pick a specific day (say, maybe all the Wednesdays of Lent) and pick something specific to fast from only on that day. All the pain and effort I put into that will be offered for the sake of John Paul. Fasting is another powerful prayer, and I want those graces for my little man!
- Pray a Novena — there are sooo many novenas out there. I love this practice as sometimes it can be difficult to find the words to pray. I have yet to pray a novena with John Paul as my intention, but I’m sitting on the idea for now. It’s in my back pocket. As he grows and struggles, I’ll find an appropriate one that goes along with whatever is going on within his life. While the graces can’t always been seen or felt immediately, I know from experience that they are often a huge help.
When it comes to being a godparent, I’m certainly no expert. Still, I am really trying. Above all I’m striving to be a person that John Paul admires and wants to emulate. St. John Bosco (speaking about the boys who lived and worked within the schools he established) once said, “…get them to love you and they will follow you anywhere.” He also said, “…it’s not enough for you to love them; they have to feel that they are loved.” In all my long-distance interactions with John Paul, this is my goal: to love him, and to try and help him see how much he is loved.
Are you a long-distance godparent? Do you have any advice for me? How do you connect with your godchild?
I’d love it if you shared your own practices with me! And if you know of anyone like me, far from home and far from their godchild, feel free to share this post with them! I’d love to connect with people in the same boat so we can keep each other company and share ideas along the way!