By Dr. Tim Millea
“Et nolite timere…duc in altum!”
Those two Latin phrases are often linked together, and for good reason. When Jesus uttered them in his native Aramaic 2,000 years ago, it was a message of encouragement and inspiration to his hesitant disciples. Much more recently, these words were often spoken, in many languages, by St. John Paul II, as he also wanted to exhort others in their faith quest. In today’s COVID crisis, these six simple words speak loudly once again. “Be not afraid … set out into the deep!”
The reaction of each individual to this historic trial varies but, to be sure, uncertainty is likely the most consistent. With uncertainty over even a short time, fear often follows. Fear is a normal human response to dangerous situations, serving as a tool for survival. However, when fear is overwhelming, it can also be incapacitating. If we reflect on Christ’s reasons to speak those words, it was not for the “human response,” but for the supernatural effect.
The antidote to immobilizing and crippling fear is found in the strength of our hope and faith in God. It is understandably difficult to foresee the good that will come of this pandemic. However, as Christian history has shown again and again, if we maintain the faith, hope and love expected of us, we will emerge from this episode even more committed and faith-filled to rebuild a better world around us.
Frankly, in the midst of this tribulation, it seems like we have already “set out into the deep,” and our ship is sinking! Perhaps we should not focus on the depth of the pandemic, but on the depth of our relationships as we wait for life to return to normal again. Rather than focusing on what we can’t do now — attend Mass and receive the sacraments, travel, shop, dine out — we should consider the more elemental and foundational objectives in our lives. This is a wonderful opportunity to strengthen family bonds, whether it be through board games, movie nights at home, phone calls or video chats that had always been put off in the past. Call a long-lost friend, send an email to an old coach or teacher or a card to someone you may be worried about. This can be a wonderful “making lemonade out of lemons” opportunity for all of us.
Consider the advice of Jesus and St. John Paul II. Neither of them promised us that the process would be safe or easy. Jesus warned his disciples that they would suffer. St. John Paul II did not promise his Polish countrymen that Communist domination would simply evaporate. The simple yet clear message was to trust in God and his will; no fear is necessary. And, then, set about righting wrongs and doing what is good, with big and deep dreams and goals.
Father Thomas Joseph White, O.P., director of the Thomistic Institute in Rome, recently stated in an article in First Things, “Christians ought to treat this pandemic as an opportunity to learn more about God.” The priest noted that “if we simply seek to pass through all this in hasty expectation of a return to normal, perhaps we are missing the fundamental point of the exercise…. we should also be thinking about how to communicate Christian hope and basic human friendship and compassion to people who suffer, in our words and gestures, both individually and collectively.”
(Dr. Millea is a physician, president of the St. Thomas Aquinas Guild of the Quad Cities and member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish, Davenport.)