Charged With Charity

Charity is the brightest jewel in the Masonic crown

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on The Midnight Freemasons blog and is being republished by permission of the author. This version contains updates.

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 forgetting

I 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!
Couple with dogs
He ended up inviting me into his home, where he shared the story of how he and his friends had all decided to petition to join Lodge together. This was decades before I even considered Masonry, so many of the names he mentioned I did not know, but there was one constant theme from his generation to mine — the traditions and work of our Lodge. The following year, I partnered with a Brother who had affiliated with our Lodge from England. He had served as Master of his Lodge in England and had the goal of moving through the chairs in our Lodge to serve in America as well. Sadly, the following year, we delivered a fruit basket to his widow when he lost his battle with cancer. Every December, I look forward to that one Saturday afternoon because what I receive from these Brothers and Widows, their time and warmth, is something I carry with me without forgetting.
Much has been written about the amount of money Freemasons raise to help people in need every day. Masonic relief has come in so many forms over the years, from fires and floods to flu shots and child ID programs, to responding to terrorist attacks. Charity is at the core of Freemasonry. I’ve seen the hat passed around a Lodge room to return full of generous dollars when there is financial need. But charity doesn’t always involve cash or a check. For most of the $2.6 million raised by Freemasons every day, you won’t find mention online or in the media. As a matter of fact, you hardly EVER hear about Masonic efforts on your local news. As Masons, we are taught that charity is a private act, performed sometimes without the recipient knowing their anonymous benefactor.

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.

A historical example of this is found in Dorothy Ann Lipson’s book, “Freemasonry in Federalist Connecticut, 1789-1835,” where she describes how a Lodge purchased “a cow for the use of a widow and her children, and the cow was carried on its books for several years as a Lodge asset, presumably to spare the family the embarrassment of accepting charity.” This simple act was impactful because these Brothers recognized a need, provided as they could, and did so anonymously.

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.”

A quick note

I will be hosting the Masonic Talks program on “Masonic Charity,” Sunday, October 24th at 7:30PM (ET) on Craftsmen Online. RW Anthony Prizzia and Bros. Todd Paterek and Andy Egressy will be on my panel to share how Freemasons in New York are making a difference in our communities every day. This program is open to the public. Pre-registration is required to secure your spot in our Zoom meeting where you will have the opportunity to have your questions answered.
Written by Bro. Michael Arce, Editor-in-chief of Craftsmen Online SW Mt. Vernon Lodge #3, Albany, New York