Freemasons take a series of obligations that appeal to charity, relief, and support. We obligate ourselves, willfully, to care for our fellow Brothers, their families, but also to the world around us. In an era where the shadow of social discourse has cast shade on how we interact socially, in person, and online, Freemasons are charged to be compassionate and kind. We are expected to stand above the fray of extremism and partisanship as an example of being a well-mannered gentleman and citizen.
We say these words that bind us to serve others without expecting anything in return. Furthermore, these commands and obligations are always given with the caveat of our discretion. That point isn’t viewed as “an out.” The choice is prefaced by our ability to act. Sometimes life has a funny way of interfering, we have families, jobs, and other demands we must meet. I have found that the most significant challenge I’ve faced when considering reaching out to help someone is answering the “are they worthy” question.
When I asked my Masonic mentor why we were given room to make these decisions, what almost seemed like a loophole to me at the time, he explained that “as a Master Mason, you need to act as the Master of yourself first before you can help others.” At the time, his answer satisfied my query. Over time it has only opened a much larger internal discussion on the idea that we as Freemasons are charged to walk uprightly, be charitable and kind, but only to those we deem qualified to receive our aid or assistance.
But what does this mean? Anyone can choose to “do the right thing” and stop to help someone on the side of the road, volunteer for a cause, or throw a couple of bucks in a collection cup. What is the difference between giving and charity?
The Masonic Way is to give without remembering and to receive without forgettingI heard a line at a fundraising event a few years back that has stuck with me ever since, “giving time is just as important as giving money.” From its earliest days, Freemasonry has been concerned with caring for orphans, the sick, and the elderly. This work continues today. Our Brethren regularly volunteer to community service events, fundraisers, parades, children and family events. One example of giving without remembering is an event held by my mother Lodge (St. George’s #6) every December. We meet at a local supermarket early on a Saturday morning. There is usually snow on the ground, and it’s cold enough to see your breath. Gathered in the bakery is a group of 10-15 Brothers, who pair up that morning to deliver fruit baskets to our elderly members and widows. I’ll never forget the first year I volunteered to help; I was still an Entered Apprentice and was welcomed into the home of a Brother who hadn’t been to Lodge in 20 years. I pulled up to his home while he was out stacking wood that morning. I thought, for sure, I was at the wrong house!
The Greeks called it “charisma,” meaning a gift. In Latin, the word is “carus,” meaning dear (love). Over time these words blended to form “grace,” meaning free (an act done as one wishes). By the time craft masonry had evolved to Freemasonry, charity was an act done freely, without prompt, out of friendship. Masons are driven to be charitable from our bond of spreading Brotherly Love and not because charity is viewed as a civic duty.
Giving and Charity are virtues that are in the core values of all Freemasons
As we are an organization of individuals who are free thinkers, open-minded, and accepting of others’ faiths and backgrounds, Freemasons are unique, in that, in each of us is a capacity to care for others. And we do this by either giving our time or performing charitable acts. We are obligated to help others, but that merely reinforces the internal drive to act where others ignore or disregard. We aren’t going to let that family struggle. We won’t allow someone to be alone in a time of need. We will find a way to make the impossible possible. And we do, every day.
I want to leave you with this thought from Bro. Albert Mackey. “If a sorrow you have lightened or a tear wipe‚ away, if of poverty’s load you have taken a share from some weary burdened soul, if you have lifted a cup of cold water to the lips of a famishing mortal, then too far have you illustrated the divine teachings of Masonry, then in so far have you done as the Master commanded.”