Discernment – The Role of the Sponsor

By Kathy Kelly-Huey

An image often used to describe the perfect sponsor is that of a character large of ears and huge of heart. The image includes long arms for support, strong feet for the journey and a small mouth to converse but not dominate.

The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults affirms this image in its description of a sponsor: “A sponsor accompanies any candidate seeking admission as a catechumen. Sponsors are persons who have known and assisted the candidates and stand as witnesses to the candidate’s moral character, faith and intention.” (RCIA#10 – emphasis added) According to the rite, the sponsor’s responsibility is to companion the candidate and to witness to his or her conversion. Formation for the sponsor then should include an understanding of discernment.  (READ MORE HERE)

Discernment takes place every time we show an interest in someone by asking questions such as: How are you doing? What is going on in your life? or How may I be of assistance? The answers to those questions can reveal a lot.

Likewise, questions about faith can demonstrate how God is acting in the life of the candidate such as: What did you hear Jesus say in the Gospel this week? Where or when do you feel closest to God? Are you noticing any difference in the way you relate to your family, friends, co-workers? The answers often reveal the conversion taking place in the life of the candidate. As sponsors witness this conversion, they may offer feedback to members of the team, who can then more easily discern a candidate’s readiness to proceed to the next stage of the initiation process.

What should sponsors look for in discerning a candidates’ readiness to move forward? The rite itself often gives us the answers. For example, look at the questions asked of the godparents during the Rite of Election:

  • As God is your witness, do you consider these candidates worthy to be admitted to the sacraments of Christian initiation?
  • Have they faithfully listened to God’s word proclaimed by the Church?
  • Have they responded to that word and begun to walk in God’s presence?
  • Have they shared the company of their Christian brothers and sisters and joined with them in prayer?

In order for sponsors to answer authentically, they should take some time to reflect seriously with their candidate on these questions BE-FORE the Rite of Election. These questions can help the sponsor know what to look for in the lives of their candidates before they celebrate the rite.

Discernment is a primary responsibility in the role of a sponsor. With proper catechesis and understanding, sponsors will discern well, opening that small mouth into megaphone that unleashes a resounding YES to the questions above for the entire world to hear.