“Noli timere” – be not afraid: A pastoral epistle for COVID19


“Noli timere” (Be not afraid) is a phrase repeated in Scripture no less than 365 times! We hear it spoken by God through His prophets to His chosen people in all sorts of situations. Our Lord Himself says it to His disciples, particularly when they are frightened and or ignorant of the significance of miraculous or prophetic events, e.g. the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor (Mtt17:7[1]), or when they mistook Him for a phantom on the water (Mtt14:27[2]).

At this present time people all around the world are experiencing a common threat to their lives, the Coronavirus or COVID19 and naturally many are frightened and fearful for themselves and for their loved ones. This has manifested itself in various ways, some positive e.g. a greater concern for the well-being of all in communities, with people cooperating with each other to ensure the most vulnerable are protected and supported; but also negative, e.g. panic-buying of essential products and ostracization of the infected. How should we Old Romans respond?

In the first instance we should not give into the natural desire to panic[3]. As Christians we have no need to! “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4) Resigned to and always seeking God’s Will, we have no need to be anxious about our own particular fate (1 John 2:17) [4], when we die – as surely we all will – as long as we have been faithful and steadfast then we have the joyful prospect of heaven and eternal life awaiting us, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.” (cf 1 Corinthians 15:50-58)! Rather, we should continue to focus our energies on loving God and neighbour (Galatians 1:10[5]). The worship of almighty God and the offering of prayer is always the first obligation on our time (Matthew 22:37[6]), even in times of distress; then serving and loving God through our neighbour (Matthew 22:39[7]).

One of the implications of the first commandment to “love God” (Deuteronomy 6:5[8]) requires us to trust Him (Proverbs 3:5[9]), to put our faith in Him (2 Samuel 22:31[10]; Romans 15:13[11]) and to believe in His promises (Deuteronomy 31:6[12]). Hope (Romans 5:5[13]) is the great gift we receive from loving God (Isaiah 40:31[14]; Psalm 3:2-6[15]) and in doing His will (Jeremiah 29:11[16]; Romans 8:28-29[17]). In times of trial and tribulation we should not think to ourselves “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me” (Psalm 22:2) but rather trust that through whatever we must endure, God hears us and is with us “Be not afraid, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1-2 Similarly, remember, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” Romans 8:35

In these trying times, loving God means we must turn to Him in worship and in prayer; upon rising, through the day, before, during and after any task and before sleeping, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6) For only in His strength can we hope by our efforts to achieve anything for anyone else, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) If we want to be of help and service to anyone else, we need first to receive – and that means ask for – God’s grace and strength to empower us “Be on the alert. Stand firm in the faith. Be men of courage. Be strong. Do everything in love.” (1 Cor16:14). Our efforts may well be futile if we do not ground them first in God and in His love (cf 1 Corinthians 13: 3[18]) and make His love our own.

Everyone then from the healthy, susceptible, infected and even the dying, can assist any and all efforts of Old Romans to help in these times through prayer, “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,” (Colossians 1:9) The whole Church should be praying for an end to the contagion, praying for victims, the governments, scientists, medics and everyone who is trying to help “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,” (1 Timothy 2:1-8). Any apostolate seeking to serve their local community should begin with prayer and ask for prayer and everyone else should be praying for them, for their protection as well as their efforts while they are about their work (cf 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12[19]). This is a practical task anyone can do, no matter their own particular circumstances, “Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,” (Ephesians 6:18)! Likewise, we should all be praying for any known to us who are vulnerable to infection and those infected, remembering the words of the apostle “I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf,” (Romans 15:30)

The Lenten liturgy lends itself to our current predicament, encouraging us as it does to a deeper love and trust of God and of service in charity to each other. Every day the liturgy contains supplications in the prayers and in the Scripture verses for God “to have mercy upon us” and we should all determine to intend those prayers and sentiments in our devotion and piety, hearing Mass or in reading the Mass texts, in praying the Hours of the Breviary or in our private devotions. Any and all contagions and afflictions may be interpreted as a punishment from God – not just Coronavirus – for this world is not as He had originally conceived and intended it to be[20], and we are all of us to some degree deserving of chastisement[21] for, as the apostle admonishes us from the Psalm, “… There is none righteous, no, not one…”[22] (Romans 3:10) Irrespective of natural disasters, plagues, famines, etc what matters most is the way human beings behave toward God and each other. This may be the opportunity yes, for Old Romans to offer supplications of mercy to God for our own and others’ sins, but also too, to play our part in the redemption of the world[23] by the way in which we offer ourselves in practical service to our neighbours during this testing time.

What is extremely important for all Old Romans everywhere to appreciate and remember, is that God is with us all. Everyone. Everywhere. “Be not afraid” my brothers and sisters to manifest your love in and for God through serving Him in each other and in the stranger. We often lament how selfish our society is today, here we have an opportunity to prove our faith and trust in God by serving our neighbour and maybe, just maybe, our example and witness will bring others to faith. Remember that we are not called simply to love one another “as you would love yourself”[24] i.e. to “Do as you would be done by”[25] but Our Lord commands us, “Love one another as I have loved you”[26] We may not necessarily be called to take the place of another in death[27], but we most certainly are commanded to do all we can for others in emulation of Christ, our Master and teacher[28] and to offer such sacrifice to God for and in love of Him, for His love toward us (Romans 12:1[29]).

Finally, I assure you of my prayers for you all, my hope for your endeavours and my very best wishes for your health and protection. Please pray for me. “And the Lord who is your leader, he himself will be with thee: he will not leave thee, nor forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.”[30] “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way.”[31]


Dominica III in Quadragesima MMXX A.D.

[1] And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid.
[2] But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.
[3] Luke 12:25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?
[4]  The world and everything in it that people desire is passing away; but those who do the will of God live forever.
[5] Then you will be able to live as the Lord wants and will always do what pleases him. Your lives will produce all kinds of good deeds, and you will grow in your knowledge of God.
[6] Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
[7] And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
[8] And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
[9] Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
[10] As for God, his way is perfect: The LORD’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him.
[11] Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.
[12] Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.
[13] And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.
[14] But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
[15] Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.” But you, LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the LORD, and he answers me from his holy mountain. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me. I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side.
[16] “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
[17] And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
[18] If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
[19] With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.  We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
[20] Romans 8:21-23 For we know that every creature groaneth and travaileth in pain, even till now. And not only it, but ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption of the sons of God, the redemption of our body.
[21] Deuteronomy 28:15 “But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.”
[22] Psalm 14:1-3
[23] Colossians 1:20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
[24] Matthew 22:39
[25] Matthew 7:12
[26] John 13:34-35
[27] John 15:13 “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
[28] 1 Thessalonians 4:9 There is no need to write you about love for each other. You yourselves have been taught by God how you should love one another.
[29] So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer.
[30] Deuteronomy 31:8
[31] 2 Thessalonians 3:16

Issued accompanying Policy Guidance about the Coronavirus COVID-19

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