“To relieve the distressed is a duty incumbent on all, but particularly on Masons, who are linked together buy an indissoluble chain of sincere affection. To soothe the unhappy, to sympathize with their misfortunes, to compassionate their miseries and restore peace to their troubled minds is the great aim we have in view. On this basis we form our friendships and establish our connections.” A careful reading of these sentences used in many Masonic Monitors is the only guide any Master Mason, no matter how inexperienced, really needs to point the way to Masonic Charity.
Yet, charity as practiced by the Fraternity is not well understood by many Masons and almost invariably misunderstood by the profane world. Masonry is not, “Perse,” a benevolent organization. It is not formed for the purpose of mutual relief from pecuniary distress, and its finances are neither gathered nor managed with that end in view. For those who wish fraternal insurance, a sick benefit organization, or a fraternal provisions for old age, there are many orders, run with wisdom and excellent in execution.
Masonry is something much greater; it ministers to a man’s heart and mind rather than to his body. True Fraternal affection and pity for the unfortunate lead Masons to take care of their dependents, to establish homes for their aged and infirm, to give to the needy and to relieve the distressed. All lodges spend money for charity; in many lodges it is the largest item of expense.
But the greatest charity which Freemasonry provides for its members is charity of thought; the greatest relief it can render is relief of the spirit.
The individual brother, newly raised, is often perturbed as to where his individual Masonic Benefactions should begin and end. Oddly enough, his geographic situation has much to do with the answer he must make. In the larger centers he will find a Masonic Board of Review, the business of which it is to relieve the distress of worthy Master Masons, their widows and orphans when the case is beyond the jurisdiction of an individual lodge. Thus, a stranger in a large city, in need of Masonic assistance, should not try to obtain it from an individual Mason or lodge, but from the organization maintained by Masons for that purpose. The individual Mason, solicited for help by one claiming to be a Mason, can do no better or more wisely than to refer such an appeal to the Board for action.
If this seems colder than the degrees seem to teach, reflect that all Masonic actions may have two angles; and that open-handed relief given by the individual Masons in good faith to a Masonic impostor, ridicules the Fraternity and nullifies its efforts. And, alas, there “Are” Masonic impostors; men without heart or conscience who are either renegade Masons in fact, or who fraudulently have obtained a Masonic card and pretend to a knowledge of Masonry they do not have, all for the purpose of living by their wits off the good will of real masons.
It is better that the individual Mason contribute to the upkeep of a rascal, than, that he refuse a worthy appeal. In localities where there is no Board of Relief to investigate, satisfy yourself of your applicant’s character and honor as best you may, and then give according to your means.
Luckily for us all, our charity is highly organized and well administered. Few organizations can get more actual relief than our Fraternity for the money expended. Masonic Homes are institutions where relief is given the aged and infirm, the orphan and the widow; these, our guests, are not recipients of charity, but of the affectionate care which all brethren give to those they love. These homes are wonderful institutions, but they are not compelled to ask individual contributions from lodge members; they take their chief support from regular appropriations made from dues or fees, or both.
It is charity of thought and act rather than charity of money and material things that demands a Masons attention. Here the field is as wide as the world and activities have no limit. The most common opportunity given to us all is that of visiting the sick. Only a brother who has been ill, especially if in a hospital or in a strange city who, because of their common brotherhood, has received visits from men he has not previously met, truly understands the beneficial effects of such examples of Masonic charity. Doctors tell that such visits have often done more than all their medicines; there is nothing more heartening to a man, feeble and ill, than the thought that someone cares.
Another charity which we can all extend is that of faith. When our brother fails in business; when our brother is accused of some offense; when our brother is criticized; when our brother is in any trouble whatever; the helping hand extended, the words “My Brother, I believe in you, I am with you,” mean much . . . Oh, so much. And they cost . . . just nothing at all!
And the most beautiful charity of all . . . charity of opinion! This we can all give in large measure, pressed down and running over, thirteen to the dozen! Let us not be judges of our brother! Let us not try to make ourselves the keepers of his conscience. Let us, indeed, “in the most friendly manner remind him of his faults,” but let us first be very sure that our own houses are not of glass. Let us speak no ill of a brother; let us keep our critical thoughts to ourselves. Let us remember that as we judge him, so must we be judged; that the Fraternity and its reputation do not depend upon what we think of him, but what the world thinks of us!
So shall we offer the truest Masonic charity, and some day find that it comes back to us many fold.
In each of the great majority of Grand Lodge Jurisdictions there is a Masonic Home, to which the Fraternity invites as its beloved guests those Masons, Mason’s widows, dependents and children who are not otherwise protected from need or sorrow.
Guests of a Masonic home are no more objects of charity than is the mother who blesses by her presence the home you support; or the father or grandfather whose place at your fireside, left vacant, could never be filled. For these, our well beloved brethren and their loved ones, we delight to care, to make their lives easy and happy, to relieve their distress, not as “Charity,” but as a grateful and devoted service we render to those we love, and those dear to those we love, “Because” we love them!
You, as a Master Mason, contribute to the support of your Masonic home. A certain proportion of the dues you pay to your lodge is set aside for the maintenance and support of that Masonic Home. And you may . . . many Master Masons do . . . feel that your duty ends when you pay that which your By-Laws demand of you.
But there is nothing easier in this world than “Check-Benevolence.” It requires neither care, nor attention, nor time, nor effort to write a check. Any one can do it who has a bank account!
But he who gives “Time and Service” gives mightily. Your Masonic Home probably is not in need of your services; it has its own paid staff, and needs no outside assistance, so far as routine duties are concerned. But no one can pay another to do for that Home what you can do – visit it!
Don’t say, “I live too far away.” In miles you may live too far away to go often in person; it will pay you to go once, at least, to see for yourself the outward and visible expression of the “Brotherly Aid” which is here practiced in its most beautiful form. Nor do you live to far away to write a letter now and then, to some Master Mason who lives in that Home.
“But, I don’t know him!”
Make it your business to know him! You and he have knelt at the same Altar. You have taken the same obligation. You belong to the same Order. You are brothers. Do you “Need” an introduction?
Send him a line! Send him a magazine. Send him a newspaper. Send him a clipping, a joke, a verse; it doesn’t matter much what you send; the point is that you must take a real personal interest in your brother, who is too old to work, too ill to labor, too handicapped in some way to make his way unaided. Masonry puts its strong right arm under his feeble body and helps him over the rough places. He has borne the heat and burden of the day; you are young and strong. You would spring forward with much joy to help an old man across a crowded and dangerous street. Well, here are old men crossing the crowded Street of Life and the helping hand of a younger brother is a comfort and protection.
Man may not live by bread alone. Give these, our guests, the best of food, the finest of care, the most comfortable of homes, and they cannot go happily down the hill to their Journey’s End if we withhold that touch of affectionate brotherhood which can only personally be given.
Do not think that Masonry neglects her guests. Lodges frequently arrange and conduct entertainment, or religious service, or plan an outing. But necessarily these are all impersonal. What you can do is give the “Personal Touch.”
And then . . . the children! For there are many children in Masonic Homes; little ones whose Master Mason Father has answered the Last Call, whose Mother cannot undertake their support, or who may have “No Mother.” You don’t need to be told what to do for children – “Or Do You?”
The widow of a Master Mason of a certain lodge fought a game fight as long as she could; then asked for help. The lodge saw that she and her little daughter became guests of the Home. The lodge looked after them well, too; the daughter had a business education as soon as she was old enough. A little group of men used to meet after lodge for a midnight lunch; they were the bone and sinew of the lodge. And every man put a coin in a cup when he paid his check, and on birthdays and at Christmas time the result of that coin-cup went to the little girl for her very own – to purchase those things which even the best of Homes does not buy. And there was many an extra contribution to her happiness; wives of lodge members took her to the theater and the concert and the lecture; lodge members took her and her mother for automobile rides; there was always a subscription to a magazine being paid by some one . . . for these were the dear ones of a Master Mason of that lodge.
And that lodge is no different, and no better, and has no finer men, than your lodge, than any lodge!
Your Masonic Home is “Your” Home, if you need it. It is also your home in the sense that you are a host. Those who live there are your guests. Make them happy! It costs so little, it means so much, it takes so little time, and makes so much for Brotherhood.
There was once a Son who taught the world of the Fatherhood of God. And He Said, “Inasmuch as ye do it unto the least of these . . . !”