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 discretion 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 greatest challenge I've faced when considering reaching out to help someone is answering the, "are they worthy" question.
When I asked my 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 answered 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 who 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 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
One example of giving without remembering is an event that my mother Lodge (St. George's #6) participates in 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!
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 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.
Charity is the brightest jewel in the Masonic crown
But charity doesn't always involve cash or a check. For most of the $2.6 million raised by Freemasons everyday, you won't find mention online or in the media. 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 having knowledge of 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 take an obligation 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, everyday.
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 to far have you illustrated the divine teachings of Masonry, then in so far have you done as the Master commanded."
Brother Michael Arce is the Junior Warden of St. George’s #6, Schenectady and a member of Mt. Zion #311, Troy New York. When not in Lodge, Bro. Arce is the Marketing Manager for Capital Cardiology Associates in Albany, New York. He enjoys meeting new Brothers and hearing how the Craft has enriched their lives. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org