Sunday, June 29, 2014

We Could Be Heroes

Michael A. Halloran, in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature, provides a description of a Masonic oath that reads: “Whenever I see the grand hailing sign of distress given, or hear the words accompanying that sign, and the person who gives it appears to be in distress, I will fly to his relief at the risk of my life, should there be a greater probability of saving his life than losing my own.” (p. 162-163). The quote, attributed to one William Morgan, a man of questionable character and equally dubious Masonic affiliation, is nevertheless accurate in its intended message. We, as Masons, have a moral duty to help our Brethren in times of great need or dire emergency. But even though this particular passage has been used by anti-Masons both past and present to illustrate preferential treatment among members of the Fraternity, I believe that in it lies a higher directive, when we recognize that we are charged as Masons to render aid to all those who may need it, Masons or not.

The Volume of the Sacred Law tells us that a man once spoke to Jesus about the great commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. “But Teacher,” the man asked, “who is my neighbor?”

“In reply, Jesus said: ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’” (Luke 10:30-36, NIV).

There is no doubt in my mind that we owe first responders everywhere a tremendous debt of gratitude. They commit unimaginable feats of bravery and compassion giving hope, comfort, and protection to people who may never know their names, but will never forget their deeds. I know of fire fighters who have taken extra care to try and save a Brother’s Masonic belongings from his burning house; police officers who have gone out of their way to check in on a friend’s family who found themselves in a potentially dangerous situation; and medical personnel who have quieted violent hospital patients with a few whispered words. But not all of us are designed to pursue the unjust, enter a burning building, or treat a devastating injury. 

The majority of us may never warrant the label “hero,” but we are capable of great feats of decency and human kindness. I have known men who have organized efforts to repair and even build houses for the indigent. I have known men who take their 4-wheel drive vehicles out in snowstorms and offer assistance to stranded motorists, all without the thought or want of compensation. I have known men who regularly care for their elderly neighbors’ yards, home repairs, and quality of life issues. I have even known a man who received a call from a Brother in Puerto Rico who requested that he check on his mother, who lived in the area but had recently been involved in an accident. Such examples of selflessness may not rival the actions of the emergency personnel who regularly protect us, but they are no less important to those who find themselves in need. 

So keep that in mind when you donate your loose change to a worthy cause; when you help that fallen person to his feet; when you comfort that frightened child. You may never have occasion to save a life by risking your own, but you certainly may have occasion to change the minds, hearts, and lives of the people around you just by acting as every good Mason should. And in that respect, even we could be heroes, if just for one day.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

To Help, Aid, and Assist

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing; the next best thing you can do is the wrong thing; and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” 
~ Brother Theodore Roosevelt

As Master Masons, we obligate ourselves to a number of fraternal duties of a “high and ennobling character.” One of the simplest, it may seem, revolves around offering aid and assistance to our “poor and penniless” Brethren approaching us in their time of need. This seems fairly uncomplicated. We all understand that financial hardship can befall any of us without warning and that our Brethren will support us to the extent that they are able. But what about the “poor” in this phrase? You might think it an intentional redundancy or a way to emphasize “penniless.” Clever alliteration, perhaps - or is it something more?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word ‘poor’ initially as you might expect - lacking sufficient money or currency to maintain a certain standard of living. However, I find the alternate definition to be more enlightening: “worse than is usual, expected, or desirable; of a low or inferior standard or quality; deficient or lacking in.” This suggests that our fraternal obligation encompasses more than just monetary assistance. It means we are all charged with helping one another when our souls are in need.

A kind word or compliment may change someone’s outlook on the entire day. Sometimes a Brother with a problem is simply looking for an attentive ear, a good listener. The new member trying to learn his work seeks the positive reinforcement of a mentor, or the guidance of a teacher. The widow or child of a Brother may relish a fond recollection of their loved one. The visitor, willing to attend, but feeling out of place, may be comforted by a friendly smile and handshake. The time spent at dinner with the Brother you haven’t seen in a while may bring him back to Lodge more often. In fact, such things cost us little more than our own efforts.

The heart of providing help, aid, and assistance in accordance with our obligations isn’t so much in the financial aspects of relief, but more so in the act of doing. When you notice someone in need, help them. Offer your time; your attention; your knowledge; your strength; your compassion; and as we are all charged, “do this in a cheerful spirit, for our Great Master has said that he loveth a cheerful giver.”

Think of these things when, during the course of the Masonic year, you pause to honor those Brethren who have given their time and energy to serve Freemasonry and your Lodge. Think of our Pennsylvania brother, Samuel Davis of Keystone Lodge No. 271, who, in the early 1900’s, established an endowment that exists to this day for the purpose of providing relief to the minor children of deceased Freemasons. Think of the help, aid, and assistance these Brothers have provided over the years and continue to inspire in us even today. Think of these things and then do something yourself to make even the smallest difference in someone else’s life. It may cost you very little, but the rewards are bound to be priceless.