What Swans Can Teach Us This Masonic Term

By: VW Teodoro Y. Kalaw, Senior Grand Lecturer


Observing a flock of swans flying in V formation offers us classic lessons of charity, humility, and shared value. Such a formation requires the one in the lead to allow everyone else behind him to have an easier and less burdensome journey, mainly because of the free lift from the slipstream his own flight creates. This form of giving lasts for the entire duration of his flight as the leader of the formation, when he then must surrender the lead to another swan.

Such charity actually masks the fact that the rest of the swans in the formation are behaving in a manner that is just as impressive. For in order to benefit from the lead swan’s slipstream, they cannot just maintain their place in the formation. In addition, they must all flap their wings at exactly the same time and in unison as those of the lead swan’s. Clearly, the V formation does not encourage show-offs and those who prefer to go their own way. Those not humble enough to go with the flow of the formation risk being left behind or separated from the rest of the flock.

It is because of these virtues of charity and humility between these birds that the V formation best creates shared value. As all the swans get to save energy through a shared slipstream and taking turns at leading the formation, all the birds get to conclude their migratory journey faster, safer, and more efficiently.

Reflecting on our logo this Masonic Term, we ourselves must in turn ask whether these two virtues allow us to build in our own inner temples, through each other, true brothers in the Craft.

Masonic Charity as Agape

As contained in the perambulation of the Fellowcraft degree, the wording from the first three verses of Chapter Thirteen of First Corinthians emphasizing the virtue of Charity is taken from the traditional King James Version of the Bible, which is the most popular text of our Volume of Sacred Law used in the Craft. In more modern translations - such as the New King James, New American Bible, and New International Versions - it is interesting to note that the term “charity” has come to more broadly be defined as “love”. This emphasizes to us that Masonic Charity as we know it is essentially about having an orientation for others as founded on love.

And just what is the Masonic way towards love for others that we have come to know as “Masonic Charity” or “Relief”? Patent in this context it is not our common notion of love as what the ancient Greeks label as “Eros” or romantic, nor the term “Philia” or brotherly love and mentorship which is another of the distinct cardinal virtues of our Craft, but the perspective of love known as “Agape”, or what the Ancient Greeks deem as the highest form of love as expressed in charity, when one freely gives to another without counting the cost.

In addition to Truth, Brotherly Love (“Philia”) and Charity (“Agape”) form our three cardinal virtues. And as our Fellowcraft degree teaches us, the foundation for the other two virtues is Charity (“Agape”) as, without the latter, the other two cannot be realized.

Masonic Humility as Servant Leadership

Since time immemorial, Masonic lodges have a unique governance structure in that all power and authority during a Masonic term is vested in the Worshipful Master (see Art. XI of our Masonic Ordinances). A lesson often overlooked is that such a set-up also highlights the total and complete loss of such power and authority as one finishes his term and becomes a past master. The near absolute discretion provided by the Brethren of the Lodge to he who sits in the East and the total withdrawal of such when one ceases to hold the Oriental Chair of King Solomon serves to establish the perspective one must have in the position. Namely, that the Office of Worshipful Master must foremost be viewed as a position of trust and service for one’s Brethren, as against a privilege to be enjoyed. Such a perspective is known in the Craft as the concept of Masonic Humility. In the discipline of leadership studies, it has come to be classified as “Servant Leadership”.

A Freemason’s commitment to accept such perspective as one’s own, as demonstrated each time one takes the Obligation respectively in the three degrees of our liturgy, must be done willingly and with full understanding of its nature. It is for this reason that an explicit assurance is provided by the Worshipful Master to the candidate before taking the Obligation in each of the three degrees that his making such will expressly NOT “interfere” with the duties a Freemason owes to God, his country, his neighbor, or himself as such “appertains to Freemasonry alone”.

As the candidate should discover after his raising, the certainty of such assurance by the Worshipful Master is premised on the notion that the perspective and commitment one invests as he undertakes his own lifelong journey towards Masonic Light will never contradict one’s duties in each of those four spheres. In our own Philippine context, this is best demonstrated when we strive to fulfill the four key duties of the office of citizen:

  • The Duty of National Allegiance. We should not treat our citizenship as a status with benefits or privileges (i.e. like how many countries our passport can get us into without a visa) but as an honor to be cherished. In short, we must prove that we deserve our citizenship. In truly exceptional circumstances, this can involve genuinely heroic leadership such as the examples of Brothers Jose Rizal and Jose Abad Santos.
  • The Duty of Informed Governance. In line with our Masonic virtue of Charity (“Agape”) as explained above, we should always facilitate understanding before advocacy, as well as promote the meaningful participation of everyone in public and private governance processes.
  • The Duty of Community Service. Again, also in line with our Masonic virtue of Charity (“Agape”), we should actively contribute to our community in the various ways open to us.
  • The Duty of Individual Diligence. In contrast to the first civic duty that emphasizes the real possibility of heroic leadership, this duty highlights the continuing necessity of QUIET leadership; or exercising one’s daily judgment deliberately in an ethical, informed, and positive manner.

Needless to state, we all need to build – individually and collectively - our commitment to exercising these duties every day. We best do such by recognizing that each of these duties entails a distinct kind of personal leadership, which together constitute the four kinds of Servant Leadership, or Masonic Humility, demanded of Filipino Freemasons:

  • Heroic – When we demonstrate our duty of national allegiance;
  • Thoughtful – When we exercise our duty of informed governance;
  • Collaborative – When we engage in our duty of community service; and
  • Quiet – When we practice daily our duty of individual diligence.

On such benchmarks will we be judged by our own Masonic peers as to whether we are indeed TRUE Freemasons when we conclude our journey towards Masonic Light, and transition on to the Celestial Lodge above.

Building Our Temples Within During This Masonic Term

Our Masonic education during this Masonic Term will thus focus on how we can best explore in richer detail how the concepts of Masonic Charity / Agape and Masonic Humility / Servant Leadership can be leveraged to build better Freemasons. Hence, we will do this with the aid of three working tools that will emphasize the nature of these two concepts as the foundation of being a true Freemason.

a) The First Tool: GLP Monthly & Multi-District Education

The uniform theme of our monthly Masonic education as delivered by the district grand lecturers assigned to each lodge in this Masonic Jurisdiction shall concentrate on revisiting and reflecting upon our Masonic Obligation as Master Masons from the perspective of Masonic Charity / Agape and Masonic Humility / Servant Leadership. Each concise (no more than 5 to 8 minutes) lecture will be composed of just three components:

  • Principle: The DGL concerned will read aloud the explanatory text for the month as provided in this manual for the reference of the Brethren.
  • Context: The DGL concerned will provide a brief interpretation of the Principle as founded on his own personal journey towards Masonic Light.
  • Reflection: The DGL will propound to the Brethren reflection question(s) for the month as provided in this manual. If the lodge has time, the Worshipful Master has the discretion to extend the session by asking Brethren who want to contribute or comment on the monthly lecture based on these.

Complimentary to the above, the Masonic education delivered at our multi-district conventions will also focus on this theme, concentrating specifically on interpreting the actual words of the text of our Third Degree Obligation phrased in Old English as these should be understood in the modern context.

b. The Second Tool: Lodge Education Programs & Study Groups

Lodge lecturers providing separate monthly lodge lectures in addition to that mandated by the Grand Lodge thru the DGLS are invited to align their topics and content with the theme of the Grand Lodge lectures each month, to facilitate even deeper discussion and dialogue.

In addition, Worshipful Masters and lodge lecturers should also explore the setting-up of lodge study groups and libraries to further promote interest and the practice of seeking Masonic Light.

c. Our Third Tool: The Practice of Daily Masonic Reflection

Ultimately, our Masonic education this term will only truly make a difference if individual Brethren themselves fully commit to the fundamental mission of our Craft: Making ourselves better thru each other. Perhaps the best place to start in building one’s own Masonic temple in his heart is to commit to a daily practice of Masonic reflection; which simply means asking oneself the following seven questions at the end of each day:

  •  Observe Like an Entered Apprentice
    • What did I commit to do today?
    • What did I actually do today?
  • Assess Like a Fellowcraft
    • Did what I do today align with my own religious beliefs, value system, and duties?
    • Did what I do today create or destroy value?
  • Discern Like a Master Mason
    • How did I practice Masonic Charity (“Agape”) and Masonic Humility (“Servant Leadership”) in terms of leading, following, and helping others?
    • In the context of what the Craft teaches, what would I have done differently today?
    • In the context of what the Craft teaches, what should I do tomorrow?