A couple of weeks ago, we hosted an online Community Chat on the topic of sponsors in the catechumenate process. We had a terrific conversation and covered a lot of ground. Several questions kept coming up that seemed to me to be the same question being asked in different ways. I want to write about that here.
The root concern beneath many of the questions is: how do we make sure we choose sponsors who are the right people?
This is fundamentally a discernment issue. We all know perfect sponsors are not going to magically appear. We have to go out and find parishioners who we think have the gifts to be a sponsor. And we have to follow up that initial instinct with a purposeful discernment process. There some prerequisites you have to put in place before you can invite parishioners and discern their gifts.
What expectations do you share with RCIA sponsors?
First, you have to have a list of basic expectations—a kind of job description or responsibilities list for sponsors. This list is mostly for you. I wouldn’t just had a list of duties to prospective sponsors, at least not at first. But I would have the list in my head so I know the kind of person I’m looking for. So here are my expectations. You should adapt this to fit your own expectations.
An excellent sponsor:
- Participates in Mass every Sunday
- Participates actively in the parish
- Prays regularly
- Talks about their faith and why they love being Catholic
- Is a hopeful and joyful person
- Believes in miracles
- Sacrifices for the sake of others
Are your RCIA sponsors available?
A second prerequisite is the potential sponsor has to have the time to be available for the catechumen or candidate. The potential sponsor also has to be available for the major rites of the catechumenate. For a sponsor, this would be primarily the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens (or the rite of welcome for a baptized candidate). For a godparent, the major rites include the Rite of Election, the three scrutinies, and the initiation rites on Holy Saturday. All of these dates should be available on the potential sponsor’s (or godparent’s) calendar.
I do not think a sponsor necessarily needs to be at every formation session you have with your catechumens and candidates. However, if you think they do, make sure your potential sponsor has that time available as well.
Another prerequisite is that we have to have meaningful conversations with potential sponsors. These conversations will help us discern if the potential sponsor has the necessary gifts for this ministry. I would organize these conversations around five questions:
- What kind of significant friendships have you had in your life?
- Right now in your life, how do you feel about making a new friend?
- What do you imagine are some important considerations for someone who wants to become a disciple?
- If someone asked you to help them grow in faith, what are some things you think are important to share with that person? What are some essential activities in the parish the seeker would need to participate in?
- If you do get asked to sponsor a seeker, how will you know you have been the kind of sponsor they need?
Five categories of questions for Sponsors
Think of these five questions more as categories than as literal questions. You can think of different ways to ask these questions and also think of follow up questions. Remember, this is a discernment process. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in deeply listening to what your potential sponsor has to say.
The first category is the person’s history. You want to discern if they have some experience and success in forming deep friendships.
The second category is what’s going in the potential sponsor’s life right now. Do they have a desire to form another deep friendship? Do they have the time and energy?
The third category is about goal setting. If they do become a sponsor, what outcome are they looking for in the seeker?
The fourth category is a game plan. What actual things does the potential sponsor imagine they would do with the seeker under their care?
The fifth category is about self-evaluation. How will the sponsor know if they have been a good sponsor? How can they potentially become a better sponsor?
If you find someone who really does have the gifts necessary to be a sponsor, you might need two or three conversations to get through all the questions.
Discerning who in your parish would be a good sponsor is time-intensive. You might not be able to develop an in-depth discernment process for sponsors right away. However, if you are one of those who are wondering how to be sure you are finding the right people to be for this ministry, then I encourage you to brainstorm with your team some small step you can take toward a true discernment process for potential sponsors.
How have you been inviting sponsors to walk alongside your seekers? How would you like to do this differently? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
- Q&A: Can directors of the catechumenate be godparents of their catechumens?
- Q&A: What do we do if the pastor won’t celebrate the scrutinies?
- Q&A: Proxies for the scrutinies
- Sponsors and godparents in the Christian initiation process
- Be sure your RCIA sponsors have what it takes