Pastor Arthur Pawlowski has been found guilty of “inciting mischief and eco-terrorism”, a charge that could result in a ten-year prison sentence. You may recall his uncompromising resistance to the Covidian tyranny imposed on Canadian citizens.
Totalitarian regimes can hardly do otherwise, for Pawlowski acted in public defiance, and if his example were permitted to proliferate, well, their whole house of cards would collapse. Hence, he has to be made an example of, pour encourager les autres. Or, more to the point, to dis-encourage others from following suit.
Pray for Pastor Pawlowki’s exoneration and freedom. It’s the least the rest of us can do, who did not – perhaps for legitimate reasons – follow his courageous example. Each of us had to make our own response, in conscience, to all that was imposed on us during that surreal time.
Here is a distinction that helped me, which Saint Thomas makes in the Summa, between acting contra legem and praeter legem, (see my previous reflection on obedience). When a law is intrinsically evil – against divine law – we must resist to the point of death, contra legem. Hence, the legions of martyrs rather than worship false gods.
But when a law is simply irrational, overbearing, not for the common good, or beyond the authority of the lawmaker, we may ‘resist’ by acting praeter legem – beside the law, or in accord with the true spirit of sanity and reason which stands behind, or should stand behind, all law. We do the best we can in the circumstances, with the virtue of prudence – finding the right means to the proper end here and now – and epikeia, applying what law there be to real, concrete situations. Was Pastor Pawlawski’s response prudent? Well, better his than that of many of our own pastors, with their vaxx-apartheid and all the rest of it, with a few notable exceptions.
All of this perfected by the Holy Spirit’s gift of good counsel, which helps us supernaturally discern the fine line between contra and praeter. Was it right for Catholics to retreat to the catacombs in early Rome, rather than celebrate Mass in the open, or even in front of Diocletian’s palace? What of those who resisted the Nazis, underground, and in secret? And how is one now to act in Communist regimes – into which Canada is quickly descending – resisting the lies and deceptions and absorption of more and more into the Borg-like state?
There is no strict, a priori, or easy answers, for we each much make our way with our conscience, simple as doves, and cunning as serpents. There are those, like John the Baptist, called to speak truth to power, and suffer the grievous, if also glorious, consequences. There are also others, most of the rest of us, like Thomas More, who admitted to his wife that ‘this is not the stuff of which martyrs are made’, muddling along as best they might. That is, until there is a choice put before them in which there is no more room for maneuvering.
What we may never do, as all the martyrs have borne witness, is betray the truth, and the Truth. Live not by lies, exhorted Solzhenitsyn. Continue the fight for freedom, and may we be inspired by some small smidgen of Pastor Pawlawski’s courage and resolve, whose example we may all soon have to follow, even if, like Saint Peter, others bind us and lead us where we would rather not.