When is a Man a Mason?

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Brian L. Pettice, 33˚

When I joined the Valley of Danville, Illinois, twenty-three years ago this past March 22nd, each member of my class was presented with a book—The Builders by Joseph Fort Newton. I’ve never read this book cover to cover, but I have read a good portion of it over the years, and I would say it has helped shape what I think of Freemasonry, and what it means to be a Freemason. Over the years, I’ve occasionally visited its pages to learn, to re-learn and reflect, and to reground myself when I’ve needed to.

This past month, our country, our communities, our fraternity, and, indeed, each of us entered a time of crisis. This change, for most of us, was relatively abrupt and shocking. Most of us hadn’t seriously thought about a crisis like COVID 19, nor how we would respond to it and the changes it has wrought. Crises often bring out both the best and worst in people. I know this because I’ve experienced crisis several times in my life, and I know that it brought out both the best and the worst in me and those experiencing it with me.

This crisis has proved no different. With no meetings to go to, I’ve felt a kind of Masonic lethargy. My time this spring mostly would have been filled with preparing for and learning and re-learning parts for different lodge and appendant body degrees. I feel relieved not having to do that, but learning and re-learning parts are also one of the ways that I immerse myself in reflection on the meaning of those specific parts and degrees. It is also how I meet with and connect with my Brethren.

Without any of that reflection and connection, I have felt my Masonic spirit atrophy. Worse, a lot of the time I would have spent in learning and reflection with my Brothers, I filled with time online and on Facebook. Don’t get me wrong; I think Facebook can be a fantastic way to communicate. I have seen it used by many people, organizations, and brethren to spread messages that are uplifting and feed our spirits—the best in people. Unfortunately, I have also seen it used by people, organizations, and even brethren to spread messages that lack truth, that denigrate and mock those with whom they disagree, that threaten violence, and that encourage the mindset that “others” are less than human—the worst in people. Worse than this though, is what witnessing this worst in others brings out in me. I have found myself feeling disdain towards others that post or like things I disagree with. I have found myself wanting to share that disdain—to meet adverse action with like adverse action rather than kindness. I knew I needed to make a change.

And so it was that I sat down to read a portion of The Builders this weekend. Unlike some other times that I opened this book, I didn’t really know what part of it I wanted to read. I knew I wanted to fill my mind with that that would uplift my soul and get me on the right track again, but I wasn’t sure where I would find that, so I decided to start at the beginning. I didn’t get far. I thumbed past the Title page and the contents and the list of illustrations and got to the Preface. There, the late Francis G. Paul, 33° (Past Sovereign Grand Commander of the NMJ and author of the Preface in my edition of the book), directs us to Newton’s essay, “When is a Man a Mason?” that concludes the book.
When I went there I found this:
"When is a man a Mason? When he can look out over the rivers, the hills, and the far horizon with a profound sense of his own littleness in the vast scheme of things, and yet have faith, hope, and courage-which is the root of every virtue. When he knows that down in his heart every man is as noble, as vile, as divine, as diabolic, and as lonely as himself, and seeks to know, to forgive, and to love his fellowman. When he knows how to sympathize with men in their sorrows, yea, even in their sins-knowing that each man fights a hard fight against many odds. When he has learned how to make friends and to keep them, and above all how to keep friends with himself. When he loves flowers, can hunt birds without a gun, and feels the thrill of an old forgotten joy when he hears the laugh of a little child. When he can be happy and high-minded amid the meaner drudgeries of life. When star-crowned trees and the glint of sunlight on flowing waters subdue him like the thought of one much loved and long dead. When no voice of distress reaches his ears in vain, and no hand seeks his aid without response. When he finds good in every faith that helps any man to lay hold of divine things and sees majestic meanings in life, whatever the name of that faith may be. When he can look into a wayside puddle and see something beyond mud, and into the face of the most forlorn fellow mortal and see something beyond sin. When he knows how to pray, how to love, how to hope. When he has kept faith with himself, with his fellowman, and with his God; in his hands a sword for evil, in his heart a bit of a song-glad to live, but not afraid to die! Such a man has found the only real secret of Masonry, and the one which it is trying to give to all the world."
This is a beautiful essay that deserves ample reflection, but one sentence really connected with me this evening.

When is a man a Mason? When he knows that down in his heart every man is as noble, as vile, as divine, as diabolic, and as lonely as himself, and seeks to know, to forgive, and to love his fellowman.

How often I forget this simple truth. I am, and we all are both the best and the worst, the noble and the vile, the divine, and the diabolic. Knowing this, my duty and purpose and reason for being a Mason is to continue to seek to know and to love and to forgive my fellow man. When I can do that when I can see the noble and divine in others, even when at their most vile and diabolic, I will be looking at them with divine eyes—seeing them the way God sees them—worthy of my kindness, respect, affection, and love. This is what I am pledged to do for my Brethren and all of Humanity. I hope my Brethren will look on me with the same forbearance.


Brian L. Pettice, 33° is a Past Master of Anchor Lodge No. 980 and plural member of Olive Branch Lodge No. 38 in Danville, IL and an Honorary Member of a couple of others. He is also an active member of both the York and Scottish Rites. He cherishes the Brothers that have become Friends over the years and is thankful for the opportunities Freemasonry gives and has given him to examine and improve himself, to meet people he might not otherwise have had chance to meet, and to do things he might not otherwise have had a chance to do. He is employed as an electrician at the University of Illinois and lives near Alvin, IL with his wife Janet and their son Aidan. He looks forward to sharing the joy the fraternity brings him with others. His email address is aasrmason@gmail.com.

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