The other day, my friend Capria told me how much she loves some of the kids at the camp she is working this summer. It was weird for her to recognize that she never expects to see them again. I thought about the impact this camp has evidently had on Capria, and then I thought about her relationships with the kids that were cut off so abruptly. I wondered if the camp meant anything to the kids, if they would ever look back and remember her. Did it make a difference that they sat and talked, and made daisy crowns together? Then I thought about the small, short-lived camp and retreat communities I have been a part of. I wondered if my presence as a participant or a leader would be remembered, if it mattered. As much as I have recently reflected on the significance of relationships, I had not given much thought to fleeting relationships. So naturally, I took my considerations one step further. What about the cashier at the grocery store, or my fellow shoppers? What about the people who pass me on the highway or those I walk past on my way to class? Do my relationships with people I am passing only for one moment in my life matter?
Of course they do. The very fact of a person’s existence is evidence of God’s abundant love for them, and thus every person matters and our relationships to them matter. But what are the consequences of this? People necessarily flow in and out of our lives, and it would be entirely exhausting to befriend every person we came into brief contact with. It would be utterly nonsensical to bond with every person we pass; we’d never make it out of the store, much less make it there.
St. Augustine, in his Homilies on the First Epistle of John, wrote, “Nothing else is imposed upon us except to love one another.” He continued, “If you are silent, be silent with love; if you cry out, cry out with love; if you chastise, chastise with love; if you spare, spare with love. The root of love must be within; nothing but good can come forth from this root.” What truly transforms every relationship is the purity of intention, the purity of love.
Our interactions don’t have to be memorable. Capria’s kids from camp don’t have to remember her for years to come. They’ve been influenced for the better, regardless. We cannot and should not have the same depth of relationship with every person we know. But Jesus exhorts us to love our enemies because it makes the point that we must love everyone — even those we don’t know, even those we know for only a passing moment. Augustine explains, “He who goes as far as his enemies doesn’t pass over his brothers. Like fire, it first seizes upon the things that are nearby and in that way stretches out to what is more distant.”
We don’t need intense, transformative relationships with every person. We simply need the consistency and purity of true charity in our hearts. As I drive by others on the road, I can pray that God shows his face to them this day. As I walk past people on the sidewalk or in the store, I can meet their eyes with a slight smile and lift up my heart that God might bless them. Starting today, we can work toward our goal of being consumed by the fire of Christ’s love and purify our every thought and action, big or small, with that love.