A Change of Preposition

hungry peopleA 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.

And so the response becomes, “Hello. It’s nice to meet you.”


  1. I chat a bit and ask them if they are aware of the helping agencies in our community as well. I will buy them a sandwich (and keep the receipt so they can’t cash it back) if it is near a store. Or give them spare change — they aren’t going to buy meth or beer with a few quarters!

    • Those quarters add up in a city – one street person disclosed the amount he made panhandling, which turned out to be more than I made at my job. A sandwich is always a welcome gift, in fact our church has a “sandwich ministry” where they are made and handed over to the drop in center downtown. Most people would be surprised to learn how close they might be to finding themselves in the other person’s situation – a work downsizing, unexpected illness with little long term insurance, a flood.

  2. This is very thought-provoking. I need to really reflect on how this minor change in thinking can make a real difference in my own attitude. Thank you very much.

  3. There’s a major assumption that I give money to homeless people because it’s an ego feed for me. I disagree totally. When I see that I am in a position to give money, (I normally do not carry cash), I am happy to do so, because I DO see Christ in the homeless person. I can’t help that it makes me feel good. Should I feel bad? Should I not give because I get that good feeling? I make it a point to give money to the homeless because I cannot invite them to my home where I would give them shower privileges, some clean t-shirts, nice socks. I’m not usually near home when I encounter them. I give money to homeless help organizations because I cannott work in the kitchens or serve dinners as I am busy teaching faith formation classes at the inoperable times. Ignatius says God is in all things. Well, doesn’t that include me too?

    • Helen, I thought the wording of the blog post was a little odd, too. I suppose there are people who do good for the primary purpose of feeling better, or superior, but that’s entirely different (in my opinion) from having the right motivation you describe and feeling good as a byproduct. Then there are people who will give money to those begging in order not to feel badly because they haven’t done so. Where I live, it’s best to give to the drop-in centers who feed and shelter homeless people rather than giving money directly to them as this often goes into fueling their addictions. Not everyone who begs is an addict by any means, but how are we to know? Feeling good as a byproduct as you describe encourages us to do more as we are able.

      • If you really splice words you will see that “there but for the grace of God go I” really is egotistical. It implies that God graced you or likes you better than someone else. Truly it is a misleading statement. Being human and therefore fallible we are going by nature to take the wrong meaning. Every single time.

    • Helen I agree with you. No it is not wrong to feel good, of course not. Egotistical giving happens for example when Missus Snootsome hands over her cash to the basket in church jsut so the people can see her doing so. I feel great when I help someone. Are we supposed to bleed instead and snivel because we help out? Not! Not only that I refuse to get caught up in the worry of what people think. I couldn’t care less what people think. I care what God thinks! Amen!

      • My husband and I place our envelope printed side down into the collection basket because we don’t want everyone and their brother seeing what we contribute, which may be more than some and less than others give, but no one’s business in the pews. We’ve seen people place cash in the basket and take change, people pretending to put something in the basket – other folk’s stories and situations we are not privy to and none of our business.

  4. This is so helpful! Thank you, Lisa. This will forever change how I frame life’s opportunities to move toward solidarity or toward obliviousness. I can’t guarantee I’ll always make the right choice, but it will make it far harder to slip into unconsciousness or rationalization.
    God bless Dean Brackley, a prophet in our time.


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