US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Baptism on Bravo

Meghan Murphy-Gill | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Two nights ago, I found myself engrossed in an episode of Bethenny Ever After. Don’t judge. I’d turned on our television just as a “This time on…” commercial was showing. The episode about to play included a baptism in a Catholic church and a confusing visit to a Trinidadian Baptist church. It essentially turned out to be a case study in what I think is a common approach to baptism among Catholics.

Here’s a brief summary: Bethenny (a former contestant on The Apprentice and cast member of The Real Housewives of New York City) and her new husband, Jason, accept an invitation to attend the church of their Trinidadian nanny (I think that’s her relationship to the family, though I’m not a regular viewer of the program, so I could be wrong). During the ceremony, Bethenny and J are asked to come up to the altar for a welcoming blessing, during which time their infant, Bryn, is taken out of Bethenny’s arms (by someone they call the archbishop) and is passed around various members of the community. There is praying and singing and what ensues looks something like a baptism. Bethenny and Jason are spooked and eventually get the baby back and leave. Later on, they are assured that it was just a blessing. Maybe it was, as Baptists don’t do infant baptisms, but to Jason, a Catholic, it sure looked like one.

Bethenny and Jason discuss the matter and Bethenny agrees to baptizing her daughter in  the Catholic Church. She just wants a small, quiet ceremony with only some family a few friends. And that’s what she gets. It’s the complete antithesis to what took place in the Trinidadian church. Bethenny and Jason also select Godparents, but never discuss their role other than that they are really great people and they will “be there” for Jason and Bethenny’s daughter.

After the private ceremony, Bethenny comments, “Jason’s parents were so so happy. And that’s all that matters.”

Hmmm. Well, making your parents or spouse’s parents happy certainly matters. But it’s clearly not all that matters. Still, while there are obvious problems with Bethenny’s perspective on religion (she’s of the spiritual, not religious persuasion), I do think that she’s representative of a large number of people who baptize their children in a Catholic church. I’m pretty sure that’s why I was baptized Catholic. Fortunately, my parents also made sure I had a First Communion and Confirmation, as well. But I suspect even my receiving those sacraments had more to do with pleasing their parents (possibly mixed in with a little Irish superstition) rather than a desire for me to be an active member of a Catholic community.

What to make of this phenomenon? Are the good (though possibly misguided) intentions of Bethenny and Jason to be applauded? The resulting baptism was positive, but how should we approach how they got there?

I asked myself how I would have handled the couple had I been the pastor they came to and decided that I’d have done exactly what the sweet elderly Irish priest did, which was explain some of the concepts surrounding baptism (such as original sin, the symbol of water, etc.) to Bethenny and Jason in ways that clearly made sense to them. I’d have done one thing different, however. I’d have encouraged them to have the baptism as part of a regular Mass. Because, ironically, I think the Trinidadians had the right idea with their “blessing” ceremony: They truly welcomed the baby to the community.