Charity of Freemasonry (exert from book on freemasonry circa. 1923)
Masonic charity is strong, kindly, beautiful and tender, and not charity at all in the narrow sense of the word. Nay, it-does not wait until a brother is in distress, but throws about him in his strength and prosperity the affectionate arm of friendship, without which life is cold and harsh. Friendship, fraternity, fellowship—this is the soul of Freemasonry, of which charity is but one gesture with a thousand meanings.
Freemasonry not only inculcates the principles of love and benevolence, it seeks to give them an actual and living presence in all the occupations and intercourse of life. It not only feels, it acts! It not only pities human suffering, it relieves it Nowhere in the world can a good Mason feel himself alone, friendless or forsaken. The invisible but helpful arms of our Order surround him, wherever he may be.
Mythic story tells us that the ancient gods invisibly and secretly followed their favorites in all their wanderings, and when these were exposed to danger or threatened with destruction, would unveil themselves in their awful beauty and power, and stand forth to preserve them from harm, or to avenge their wrongs. So Freemasonry surrounds rounds all her children with her preserving presence, revealing herself only in the hour of peril, sickness or distress.
It is an erroneous idea, but one widely prevalent, that Freemasonry is a benefit so- society; that persons join it that they may be cared for in their periods of adversity. Nothing could be further from the truth; at least theoretically one unites with our fraternity that he may serve and minister to the needs of others.
Freemasonry is not, in itself, a charitable organization. That is, the primary purpose of the Order is not charitable relief to its members.
Masonic charity is a great fact; it is an inherent part of the Masonic system; but it is not the primary purpose or function of Freemasonry.
The fundamental creed of Masonry is and ever must be, the study of Masonic philosophy. As Freemasons come together for the discussion of Masonic truth, a strong feeling of brotherhood naturally results. The friendships formed in this work carry in themselves a desire to relieve the necessities of unfortunate brothers.
The real Masonic charity (or assistance) that is afforded by one brother to another is assistance in the learning and understanding of Masonic truth.
We are not taught that we shall afford one another political, business, or social assistance. Masonic lodges are not political organizations; they are not business syndicates; they are not social cliques. The average Freemason looks askance at the brother who seems to seek assistance of such sort. However, it is not to be denied that the strong and enduring friendships formed in the lodge are a real assistance to a man in all of his legitimate endeavors.
But we must not forget that if we assist a brother Freemason in his endeavors, we assist him as a friend, and not because there is anything in Masonry that teaches us to discriminate in favor of Freemasons in the ordinary relationships of life.
It is a common error to regard charity as that sentiment which prompts us to extend assistance to the unfortunate. Charity in a Masonic sense has a much broader meaning, and embraces affection and goodwill towards all mankind, but more especially our brethren in Freemasonry. It is this sentiment which prompts a Freemason to suffer long and be kind, to control his temper, forgive the erring, reach forth his hand to stay a falling brother, to warn him of his error and whisper in his ear that correction which his fault may demand, to close his ear to slander and his lips to reproach; in short, to do unto others as he would be done by.
Charity as applied to Freemasonry is different from the usual and accepted meaning. All true Masons meet upon the same level, regardless of wealth or station. In giving assistance we strive to avoid the too common error of considering charity only as that sentiment of commiseration which leads us to assist the poor and unfortunate with pecuniary donations. Its Masonic application is more noble and more extensive. We are taught not only to relieve a brother's material wants, the cry of hunger, etc., but to fellowship with him upon our own level, stripped of worldly titles and honors. When we thus appeal to him, giving spiritual ad- vice, lifting him up morally and spiritually with no sense of humiliation to him, we set him free from his passion and wants. To such charity there is a reciprocity rich in brotherly love and sincere appreciation.
Divinity has wisely divided the act of charity into many branches, and has taught us many paths to goodness. As many ways as we may do good, so many ways we may be charitable. There are infirmities not only of body, but of soul, which require the merciful hand of our abilities. I cannot condemn a man for ignorance, but must behold him with pity. It is no greater charity to clothe his body than to apparel the nakedness of his soul.
It is an honorable object to see the reason of other men wear our liveries, and their borrowed understanding do homage to the bounty of ours. It is like the natural charity of the sun, which illuminates another with- out obscuring itself. To be reserved in this part of goodness is the most sordid piece of covetousness, and more contemptible than pecuniary avarice.
Benevolence is absolute and real. So much benevolence as a man has, so much life has he; for all things proceed out of this same spirit, which is differently named love, justice, just in its different applications, as the ocean receives different names on the several shores which it washes. True benevolence, indeed, extends itself through the whole compass of existence, and sympathizes with the distress of every creature of sensation. Little minds may be apt to consider a compassion of this inferior kind as an instance of weakness; but it is undoubtedly the evidence of a noble nature. Homer thought it not unbecoming the character even of a hero to melt into tears at a distress of this sort, and has given us a most amiable and affecting picture of Ulysses weeping over his faithful dog, Argos, when he expires at his feet.
Freemasonry has no place for the little, selfish side of man. Its secrets are as the dead to him who looks at life that way. It looks for the man with the bigger soul, with the more universal spirit; it stops and stays with him only who sees man's mission in the betterment of the human race, who can take by the hand the fellow who is down and out, and put him on his feet, and send him on his way a better man. Its teachings are wonderfully practical and godlike when once we recognize them.
It gives the individual a higher conception of a more definite mission; but while this is the spirit of Freemasonry, do we all recognize it? For no man can understand and appreciate it until he has pondered long and faithfully upon its teachings. Too many, alas! fail to understand or get that broader vision which our obligations are intended to give. To them Freemasonry is a failure; they are neither active nor practical Masons, but merely hangers-on. Such is not the fault of Freemasonry, but is due to the fact that they have failed to mix thought and action.
Every day one meets the so-called Freemason. He is in evidence everywhere. Perhaps he has been Master, or even Grand Master. Perhaps the fraternity has bestowed upon him every possible honor. He knows he has reached the highest rung in the ladder of his personal ambition. There he halts. There he comes to a dead stop. He throws Freemasonry aside as he would an old shoe or a sucked lemon. He ceases to attend lodge meetings. He has no more interest in the fraternity. There is not enough Masonic spirit left in him even to subscribe to a Masonic paper. To all intents and purposes, so far as Freemasonry is concerned, he is dead. He professes, but he does not possess, and really never did possess, the real Masonic spirit.
The real Freemason is the man in whose everyday life one sees an exemplification of true Freemasonry. The real Mason may be as poor as a church mouse, or he may be the richest man on earth. But poor or rich, destitute or otherwise, the real Freemason demonstrates the teachings of the fraternity in his daily life, in his business and social dealings with his fellow-men, in his religion and in his politics. The real Mason does not lose his interest in Freemasonry or his interest in the brethren. Age, position, wealth—these do not deaden his Masonic ardor. The real Freemason never says: "I am not interested in Freemasonry; I have lost my brotherly feelings; I have gone to seed."
Unless a man has the right kind of a heart you cannot make him the right kind of a Freemason. You can fill his brain full of obligations and teach him by symbols, and send him forth from the lodge room loaded to the guards with good intentions, and if his heart is not right he will walk a block out of his way to keep from giving a poor beggar a nickel, and then hasten back again to circulate a scandal or to interfere in matters that do not concern him. Charity, that God-given part of a man, and the foundation of Freemasonry, is lacking in his composition, and therefore he can be a Freemason only in name.
Charity—or friendship, as it may well be called—is just the habit of giving our life to others; when we give our life away we possess more of it; the more we give, the more we receive.
To serve and do good to as many as possible—there is nothing greater in your fortune than that you should be able, and nothing finer in your nature than that you should be desirous to do this.
The true Freemason must be and must have a right to be content with himself; and he can be so only when he lives not for himself alone, but for others also, who need his assistance and have a claim upon his sympathy.
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