by: Bro. Joselito C. Frial
Among those Masonic virtues practiced by the members of the Craft, “Charity” shines the brightest, so to speak. This is so because, among others, it is our sworn duty to help our worthy fraternal brethren wherever they may be found. Thus, when we were first conferred the Entered Apprentice degree, the Conferral Master inculcated in our minds the solemn duty to relieve our distressed worthy brethren under the following circumstances: “should you find a friend particularly a worthy brother mason in as destitute condition as that in which you now stand, it is your indispensable duty to relieve him so far as you can do so without serious injury to yourself.”
In the lecture of the same degree, we were taught that Faith, Hope, and Charity are our direct link to the Celestial Lodge above through that “theological ladder” which Jacob, in his vision, saw reaching from earth to heaven, “but the greatest of these is Charity. For our Faith may be lost in sight, Hope ends in fruition, but Charity extends beyond the grave through the boundless realms of eternity.”
The importance of Charity to us Masons was further underscored during the perambulation in the conferral of Fellowcraft degree, thus:
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Charity suffereth long and is kind; Charity envieth not, Charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly; seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, enjureth all things.
And now abideth faith, hope, and charity, these three, but the greatest of these is charity.”
Undeniably, the Obligations that we took at the Altar demand from us nothing less than the duty to aid and assist ALL distressed worthy brother Master Masons, their widows and orphans, wherever they may be found, and on certain conditions.
Indeed, Charity is the foundation of a true Mason. “It is Action and the chief virtue and the first law of a Mason.” (18th Degree, A&ASR) It reminds us that in our search for the truth in our Masonic journey, and in our quest for Masonic knowledge and wisdom, we must all be men of action and not merely of words.
It teaches us to discharge our duties towards our fellowmen because they are duties, and expect nothing in return; to do unto everyman that which we expect him to do unto us; that dignity and importance are attached to work and those who perform it; and that, it is by our actions that we are put right with the Great Architect of the Universe not by Faith or Hope alone. It also reminds us that knowledge without its application is of little or no value.
In his Grand Oration (1915), entitled Freemasonry in Action, WB George H. Harvey proclaimed that, “Charity is the preeminent virtue, the possession of which in its fullest signification marks the perfect Mason. Charity in its highest and noblest sense includes all other virtues, and in its exercise all right thought and action are employed. But the thought of charity is too much associated with almsgiving, financial aid, and assistance.” He also professed that “Charity, in its true meaning, is affection and love, an active as well as a sentient force in all that pertains to our mortal existence.”
In the higher Masonic degrees, we are admonished “to be charitable with the goods that the GAOTU gives us, keeping always in mind the poor and the needy. By generous giving, we “liberate ourselves from the illusion that the accumulation of wealth is the purpose of life.” (20th Degree, A&ASR)
Finally, let us not forget that even the poorest among us must practice the virtue of “Charity” by giving part of his time, effort, and energy, to assist not only his distressed worthy brother, but every fellowman who needs his assistance, in his own little way, and despite his own need and condition. As a distinguished brother once said, “he who is poor but gives part of his time gives part of himself. In that sense, he gives more than a rich man who gives but part of his wealth.”
After all, “it’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving” (Mother Teresa) that matters most.
In Blue Lodges or Ancient Craft Masonry, the Masonic virtue of HUMILITY is seldom discussed, and oftentimes neglected. In fact, there is dearth of teachings found in our Monitor that directly points to humility as one of our cardinal virtues or Masonic tenets. In the Grand Orations from 1912 up to the present, the virtue of humility had been hardly discussed. The first time that humility became the subject of prescribed Masonic education was only in October last year. Hence, I cannot blame a District Grand Lecturer, who delivered the prescribed Masonic education in a Lodge where I attended, when he quipped that he could not find enough materials to support an-depth discussion of the Masonic virtue of Humility. I, too, suffered the same experience.
A discerning mind, however, will understand that our rituals teach us to practice humility right from the start of our Masonic initiation. Arguably, I can confidently claim that the first lesson taught to us in Masonry is humility, buttressed by the following indubitable facts.
As a petitioner, we had our first taste of Masonic initiation inside the preparation room. It was the time when the stewards “divested us of all minerals and metals, and so much of our clothing that, we were neither naked nor clad barefoot nor shod. We were also hoodwinked, and then a cable tow was placed around our neck”. We did not understand why we were made to suffer that way, but we neither complained nor resisted because at the back of our minds we knew that it was part of our Masonic journey, as all brothers have done who have gone that way before. Under ordinary circumstances, however, we would not allow other people to trifle with our person or feelings much less demean us by stripping us of our garments, and more. A closer look of that part of our ritual will readily show that the same sought to teach us the virtue of HUMILITY.
Soon after we had been duly and truly prepared, and when we knocked for the first time on the portals of Freemasonry, we were told “to wait a time with patience, until the Worshipful Master in the East is informed of our request and his answer returned.” While we were admonished to “wait” and to be “patient”, we were actually taught to be humble. Remember that Humility is the quality of being humble, patient, respectful, and amiable.
Inside the Lodge, while we were still hoodwinked, unable to see and anticipate what would be required of us, we entrusted our fate to our guide whom we did not know at the time. The rite of circumambulation was exemplified with our eyes covered, led only by our guide. Again, that part of our ritual taught us the virtues not only of HUMILITY, but obedience and submission.
When we were given the Charge of the MM degree, we were admonished in the following manner: “To your inferior in ranks you are to recommend obedience and submission, to your equals, courtesy and affability, and to your superiors, kindness and condescension.” It teaches us to prepare ourselves to command by learning to obey; and to respect others, but must also have self-respect.
In other Masonic degrees, we are instructed that “as Masons, our duty is not to be better than our brethren (that is pride and self-conceit), but better than ourselves (humility). The more we have, the more we owe to those who need our assistance.” By the practice of Humility we learn that “Tis nobler to err and thereafter willingly to admit the error and to make amends, than never to err at all.”
Why should humility, along with charity, be the foundation of a true Mason? It is my humble submission that the practice of humility is the first step towards the acquisition of truth, a potent weapon against pride, the most vicious of human passions and sins.
Remember that “pride and vanity, the opposites of humility, and labeled as the father of all sins, is the hardest of the human passions to subdue. It leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind. Pride is understood to sever the spirit from God, as well as His life-and-grace-giving Presence.” (Mere Christianity. by C.S. Lewis)
Bro. Benjamin Franklin has this to say about pride:
"In reality there is, perhaps no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history. For even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.”
"It may not be amiss to state that “when pride comes, then comes disgrace; but with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2)