Q. We refer to Christ by various titles: the Messiah, the Lamb of God, Son of the Father, etc. But I have never understood why, in the Scriptures, Jesus refers to himself as the “Son of Man.” That sounds, to me, a little less than divine. Why does Christ call himself that? (San Francisco, Calif.)
A. Your question is an insightful one and has been the subject of considerable discussion by Scripture scholars. Pope John Paul II (on April 29, 1987) devoted one of his weekly audience talks to explaining what Jesus meant when he called himself “Son of Man.” That title is used in the four Gospels, always within the sayings of Jesus; and depending on the context, it can refer either to Christ’s humanity or to his divinity.
At certain times, the pope pointed out, Jesus seems to be highlighting the fact that “he took his place with that same name as a true man among men, as a son of a woman, Mary of Nazareth,” one who shares entirely our earthly condition and suffering.
An example comes in Matthew’s Gospel (8:20) where Jesus says, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”
In other passages, though, Jesus uses the title with clear reference to the prophecy of Daniel (7:13-14), which was viewed by all as messianic: “I saw coming with the clouds of heaven one like a son of man. … He received dominion, splendor and kingship; all nations, peoples and tongues will serve him.”
When Jesus cures the paralytic who has been lowered through the roof, for example, he ascribes divinity to himself by first saying to those looking on, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth …” (Mk. 2:10).
Even more patently, when on trial before the Sanhedrin he was asked, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus answers, “I am; and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mk. 14:61-62).
So the one title, Son of Man, had a dual purpose: to lay claim to Christ’s unique nature, which was both human and divine.
Q. Several years ago, my wife and I were asked to be the godparents of five children whose parents were joining the Catholic Church at the time. We willingly agreed. Later, the couple had four more children; we were asked to be their godparents as well and were proud to do so.
Two years ago, though, the parents decided to leave the Catholic faith. Their children are now ages 2 through 13, and we are wondering what are our responsibilities to those children now? (Colfax, Ind.)
A. What pleases me, with your question, is how seriously you view your responsibilities as godparents. That is the ideal the church seeks to achieve, although many sponsors fall short. The church’s Code of Canon Law in Canon No. 872 states that a godparent “helps the baptized person to lead a Christian life in keeping with baptism and to fulfill faithfully the obligations inherent in it.” So a continuing relationship is clearly envisioned.
Even in the circumstances you describe, you can continue to fulfill some of the responsibilities — mainly, to continue to serve as examples of faith-filled Catholics by the tenor of your lives and sacramental practice and by praying regularly for the children you have sponsored.
You might even consider sending them a card or note each year on the anniversaries of their baptism, but this would depend on how that would be viewed by the children’s parents and you are in a better position to measure that than I.
If you lived in the same vicinity and if the parents had simply fallen away from Catholic practice through laziness or the general busyness of family life, you might even offer to take the kids to church and to religious education classes.
But what I suspect from your question is that the parents made a conscious decision to withdraw from the Catholic faith — in which case you might drive them (and their children) further away by pressing too hard.
If you are still friendly with the parents, you might consider having an honest discussion with them — explaining to them that you still feel some personal responsibility for the children’s growth in the faith but that you don’t want to do anything that would offend, and asking the parents what they would be comfortable with.
Questions to Father Doyle may be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 40 Hopewell St., Albany, NY 12208.