October 17, 2019

RIP: “I Can’t”

There was once a 4th grade teacher named Donna who realized early in the school year that it was necessary to boost her students’ self-confidence, so she decided to have an “I Can’t” day.  All the students spent time writing down things they wanted to be able to do, but were unable to—for instance, “I can’t kick the soccer ball past second base,” “I can’t do long division with more than two numbers,” “I can’t get Debbie to like me,” “I can’t do ten push-ups,” and “I can’t eat only one cookie.”  Donna made her own list, on which she wrote things like “I can’t get John’s mother to come in for a teacher conference,” “I can’t get my teenage daughter to put gas in the car after using it,” and “I can’t get Alan to use words instead of fists.”  Most students filled an entire page with their “I Can’t” statements, and a few even used a second sheet of paper.

When the students were finished, Donna had them fold their papers in half and bring them to her desk; she placed them in a shoe box, with hers on top, put the lid on the box, and led everyone outside, after stopping to get a shovel from the custodian’s room.  At the farthest corner of the playground, they dug a hole, with all the students taking turns; when it was three feet deep, the box containing the “I Can’ts” was placed inside and then covered with dirt.  Donna announced, “Class, join hands and bow your heads,” and then she delivered a eulogy, saying, “Friends, we gather today to honor the memory of ‘I Can’t.’  While he was with us here on earth, he touched the lives of everyone, some more than others.  His name, unfortunately, has been spoken in every public building—schools, city halls, state capitols and even the White House.  We have provided ‘I Can’t’ with a final resting place.  He is survived by his brothers and sister ‘I Can,’ ‘I Will,’ and ‘I’m Going to Right Away.’  They are not as well known as their famous relative, but perhaps some day, with your help, they will make an even bigger mark on the world.”

After Donna led her students back to the classroom, they held a wake in “I Can’t’s” honor, with cookies, popcorn, and fruit juice, while Donna cut out a large tombstone from a sheet of cardboard.  She wrote “I Can’t” on the top, “Rest in Peace” in the middle, and the date at the bottom, and hung the tombstone in the front of the room for the rest of the school year.  From then on, whenever a student forgot this lesson and said “I Can’t,” Donna simply pointed to the tombstone, and the child rephrased the statement in a more positive way (Chicken Soup for the Soul, p. 156).  That 4th grade class received an important lesson which would remain with them the rest of their lives—and it’s a lesson that has great meaning and value for us as we try to answer God’s call.  Being a disciple of Jesus can often seem difficult and discouraging, but the Lord wants us to remember that, through faith and an openness to His grace, we can do whatever He asks of us.

In the Gospel of Luke (17:5-10), when the disciples asked Jesus, “Increase our faith,” His response didn’t allow them to feel sorry for themselves or absolve them of personal responsibility.  Instead of letting them off the hook, He turned their request back on them, in effect telling them that if they had faith to start with, wonderful and amazing things would happen.  Such faith on our part should in fact be automatic, a natural part of our service of the Lord, just as servants are supposed to fulfill their duties without being told or expecting constant recognition and praise.  Such faithful service will be rewarded, for as the 1st Reading says, “the just one, because of his faith, shall live.”  St. Paul (2 Tm 1:6-8, 13-14) warns us that living out the Gospel may involve a certain amount of hardship, but this isn’t reason for us to falter or give into fear—for God’s Spirit bestows upon us power, love, and self-control.  If we give Jesus our trust, and persevere in our efforts to serve Him, we will be successful.

One of the most vivid current examples of this truth is the Right to Life Movement.  When the U.S. Supreme Court arbitrarily and illogically threw out all restrictions on abortion back in 1973, an editorial in the New York Times—speaking for the abortion industry—said that “now the issue is finally settled.”  That self-satisfied statement has long since been exposed as a foolish, self-serving delusion.  To the bewilderment and dismay of the abortion industry, the pro-life movement will not give up, and won’t go away—and slowly but surely, the tide is turning in favor of life.  The number of abortions, and of abortions clinics,  has been declining in the U.S. over the last decade, the younger generations are more likely to reject abortion than their parents’ generation, and being pro-life is often a decisive advantage for political candidates seeking elected office.  Moreover, many people have come to realize that Planned Parenthood and the rest of the abortion industry are focused primarily on making money, while the pro-life movement—with its thousands of unpaid volunteers, and hundreds of clinics offering free services and referrals for worried and troubled women—is definitely motivated by a spirit of love, service, and compassion.

Our nation will sooner or later be cleansed of the scourge and disgrace of abortion—primarily, according to one prophecy, through the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe; just as David overcame Goliath, the seemingly unimposing Right to Life Movement will topple the pro-abortion giant, no matter how long it takes.  This isn’t reason for us to be complacent, however, for each of us will one day be judged in part on whether we defended God’s gift of life.  It won’t work for us to try to excuse ourselves by saying “I can’t . . . spare the time to get involved . . . make sense of the issues . . . work with volunteers I don’t know because of my shyness . . . afford to make a contribution,” or anything else like that.  All the “I Can’ts” that keep us from answering God’s call are supposed to be dead and buried.  Instead, our response should be “I can . . . respect the humanity of every person I meet . . . defend the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life . . . write letters to the editor of the local newspaper and my elected representatives . . . vote only for pro-life candidates . . . and pray every day for the success of the pro-life movement.”  If we want to be on the winning side, it’s necessary for us first of all to have a winning attitude, and this means taking it as certain that God’s grace will overcome the power of sin in the world, taking it as certain that we’re supposed to live as His servants, and taking it as certain that His help will enable us to fulfill our mission in life.  Jesus is seeking not lip service, but true service—and then, through the power of the Holy Spirit, all things become possible.

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Written by
Fr Joseph Esper

REVEREND JOSEPH M. ESPER is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit and pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Anchorville, Michigan. He received his Master of Divinity degree from St. John's Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan. Through the years, Father Joe has lectured at Marian conferences, appeared on EWTN, spoken on Catholic radio, and written more than a dozen articles for This Rock, The Priest, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, and other publications. He is also the author of numerous books, including Saintly Solutions, More Saintly Solutions, After the Darkness, Lessons from the Lives of the Saints, and Why Is God Punishing Me? In addition to Amazon, many of his most recent books are available through Queenship Publishing.

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Written by Fr Joseph Esper
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