The “I Won’t” Person

“I can’t” says the teenage person talking to her friends who’s been grounded by her parents. The “I can’t” person is the Catholic who fears for eternal life and losing out to that other place.

The “I can’t” person. Legalistic. Not responsible. Someone else or something else is the decider. Lived in a religious fear, full of constant doubt, an unforgiving guilt and a heap load of personal mistrust. “I can’t” person says, “These are the church’s rules of life, I need to dutifully obey.”

Then there’s the “I won’t” person, a mature Catholic who responds with those two words when something nefarious, dividing, or just plain wrong is offered. Forget the written commandments, they are inscribed and lived within our hearts, says the young prophet Jeremiah. The “I won’t” person agrees with Jeremiah. The “I can’t” person says back, “I can’t.”

“I can’t” is a person of forced labor, slave labor (if you will). Blindly obedient. Compliant. Conforming, tame.

Integrity remains one of my all time favorite words. The word stands strong when applied to your life. The “I won’t” person has admitted and integrated (another great word) personal weaknesses and strengths, cultural passings, taking church laws and commandments and making them all a personal and prayerful part of honoring God and living life.

The “I can’t” person is impersonal – there’s no personal investment, just following the rules (or is it the roll the dice?) to see which eternal place is the future. Because you see, the “I can’t” person is only concerned with the hereafter. Interesting that “hereafter” can mean both eternity as well as tomorrow. So, which one will it be? The “I won’t” person takes all that important life and religious stuff and lives a fulfilling and joy filled life … today and … every day hereafter. “I won’t” lives, breathes and shares God’s blessed eternity, God’s heaven, here and now. Completely and full of satisfaction, appreciation and a sincere peace. “I can’t” says, “I can’t.” I guess that’s why that’s the person’s name.

“I can’t,” “I won’t”. Two completely different persons but living and praying within the same church. Or, are these persons sometimes both living within one person?

“I can’t” says, “I can’t stop preaching to you because I need to prove how intelligent I am and how much reading I’ve done to prepare this Sunday’s sermon.”

“I won’t” says, “I won’t continue talking to you as fellow travelers because I just told you what I wanted you to hear.”


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
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