Baptism by “Fire”

It’s 6:28 on a Saturday night. The radio announcer thanks his listeners for listening (who knows how many there are in Manitowoc), and he lets the record end as he runs out the door. He’s gone. My lifeline. The guy I’m supposed to ask questions about operation, you know technical stuff. He’s gone.

I’m now all by myself. There is not a single person in the radio station building. It hits me that I’m responsible for these airwaves, until midnight, five and a half hours. My seventeen-year-old mind recalls remembering my radio license test and quiz.“The Federal Communications Commission may very well be listening,” I could be fined and imprisoned if I make a mistake.

The 45-record “Lay, Lady Lay,” by Bob Dylan was already cued up for me. Not my first choice for my first radio musical selection that I’ll remember the rest of my life. Bob finishes singing, and either you hear shhh-shhh-shhh, (Children: ask your parents what that sounds means) or you turn on the microphone for the very first time and attempt to say something intelligent.

“Baptism by fire,” it’s called. Forget the water, this is a do-or-die fire for $2.70 an hour.

Now, what’s your first baptism by fire? It a phrase that describes someone learning something the hard way through a challenge or difficulty. I’m sure you can easily recall your early “baptism by fire” story. Semi-prepared. Excited. Dread. Anticipation. A frozen fear. A dream come true, at least for me, as a junior in high school. Mistakes, mishaps, stutterings, (worst of all) blaming others, blaming yourself – or is it plainly showing us that the baptism hasn’t taken root. The water’s planted all right. But the roots? Those darn roots. And about all that wise, elderly advice that we ignored because we knew better at our younger age.

I hold out for those two m’s: mistakes and mishaps. Our greatest tutor is uncovered through those two m’s. What better time for the intercession of the Holy Spirit than when we think we’ve got it under control and we have it all handled, and she gently or loudly intervenes and alerts us to correct our two m’s.

John, whose last name is Baptist, introduced us to the sacrament. Jesus Christ thoroughly infuses us with the sacrament through the power of the Holy Spirit – and fire.

It’s your turn once more. When did Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit fully baptize you?

We never know when a daunting obstacle or severe challenge will present itself in our lives. A new mom with a colicky baby, your first speech in front of the class and you swear that you’re, indeed, not wearing pants, a mother of two youngsters loses her husband to cancer, a CEO suddenly faces a PR crisis with an employee caught on video, a parent buries a son or daughter, a fresh intern at the hospital is asked to work an additional 12-hour shift – in the ER, a husband who always seems to be two drinks ahead of you, a newspaper writer working the night shift in Washington D.C. is told to cover a breaking White House scandal and deliver an article to the managing editor by 5 a.m., (or my favorite of all) the sixty-year-old daughter becomes the parent to her eighty-five-year-old mother. “Eat your vegetables!” “I don’t wanna!” Fiery Baptisms.

Eliminated, not fired from a wonderful job for twenty-two years. And it’s a Catholic place! Some people asked me if it affected my faith. I wanted to say, “That’s a stupid question!” Instead, I clearly replied that “Nothing can affect my faith.”

And, if you can’t learn, then you learn to fake it. In those high school radio years, I couldn’t say, “Strategic Arms Limitation Talks.” I practiced in the mirror but to no avail. I said, “SALT talks,” which is actually redundant. Listening to the news read by me, the poor Manitowoc folks thought there was something wrong with their table salt. That’s “Baptism by fire,” coping-style.

And here we all thought that the first and primary sacrament of our Christian lives was that one-time deal. I didn’t know it was happening to me many years ago, but those folks who brought me to church knew it was important. My complete and full baptism frequently occurs throughout life. I’m confident the same is true for you all of you.

The fire of the Holy Spirit baptizes us again and again. Water alerts (John the Baptist). Fire burns deeply inside us, demanding a Christian, humane response (Jesus Christ).

About Rev. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.

A Roman Catholic priest since 1980 and a member of the Society of the Divine Savior (Salvatorians). Six books on the Catholic church and U.S. culture are available on
This entry was posted in Baptism, Spirituality, Stuttering. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Baptism by “Fire”

  1. Bill Ognacevic says:

    Excellent post. If Dylan wasn’t already cued, what 45 would you have played? (I’m guessing something by the Young Rascals)


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