A little change of preposition can make a big difference. Imagine that you see a disheveled looking man holding a cardboard sign saying “Hungry, out of work, please help.” You feel the typical internal angst. Shall I ignore and look away? Shall I give money (most likely to make myself feel better)? But somewhere inside you realize that this person is not so very different from you. Perhaps he once had a good paying job and frequented the same cafes as you. Perhaps he had attended a local high school and sat in the stands cheering on his team like you did. Perhaps he had health problems, but lacked the access to treatment that you had. And you think the empathetic thought, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” It is an expression that somehow instills a sense of privilege from God.
I believe Ignatius would say, “You have the wrong preposition.”
Ignatian spirituality seeks to find God in all things, all places, all experiences. God is fully and wholly present in the homeless beggar. In fact, Jesus was quite clear that those who helped the hungry, the stranger, the thirsty, the imprisoned, were, in fact, giving to God Himself. When we personally engage those in need, rather than affirming our privilege, we are being called out of it. Dean Brackley, SJ, wrote so eloquently about an alternative to the familiar seeking of security through power, prestige, and possessions. The alternative: “faith, by which we abandon ourselves to God’s care.”
A simple change in preposition allows one to do just that. Change the “but for” to “with.” “There, with the grace of God, go I.” In this phrase we seek the courage to not walk by, not give out of our privilege, but directly to engage the person in need.