Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Old Past Master - Understanding

Carl H. Claudy 1924
Originally published in 1924 by The Masonic Service Association of the United State
Converted to text by Bro. Carl Johnson

"I have been a Mason for a year now," remarked the Young Brother to the Old Past Master "and while I find a great deal in Masonry to enjoy, and like the fellows and all that, I am more or less in the dark as to what good Masonry really is in the world. I don't mean that I can't appreciate its charity, or its fellowship, but it seems to me that I don't get much out of it; I can't really see why it has any function outside of that relationship we enjoy in the lodge room and the little charitable acts we do."

"I think I could win an argument about you," smiled the Old Past Master.

"An argument about me?"

"Yes. You say you have been a Master Mason for a year. I think I could prove to the satisfaction of a jury of your peers who would not need to be Master Masons; that while you are a lodge member in good standing; you are not a Master Mason."

"I don't think I quite understand," puzzled the Young Mason. "I was quite surely initiated, passed and was raised. I have my certificate and my good standing card. I attend lodge regularly. I do what work I am assigned. If that isn't being a Master Mason, what is?"

"You have the body but not the spirit," retorted the Old Past Master. "You eat the husks and disregard the kernel. You know the ritual and fail to understand its meaning. You carry the documents but for you they attest but an empty form. You do not understand the first underlying principle which makes Masonry the great force that she is. And yet, in spite of it, you enjoy her blessings... which is one of her miracles, that a man may love and profit by what he does not comprehend."

"Why....I...I just don't understand you at all. I am sure I am a good Mason..."

"No man is a good Mason who thinks the fraternity has no function beyond pleasant association in the lodge, and charity. Man, there are thousands of Masons who never see the inside of a lodge and therefore, perforce, miss the fellowship. There are thousands who never need her charity and so come never in contact with one of its many features. Yet these may take freely and largely from the treasure house which is Masonry.

"Masonry, my young friend, is an opportunity. It gives a man a chance to do and to be, among the world of men, something he otherwise could not attain. No man kneels at the Altar of Masonry and rises again the same man. At the Altar something is taken from him never to return; his feelings of living for himself alone. Be he never so selfish, never so self-centered, never so much an individualist, at the Altar he leaves behind him some of the dross of his purely profane make-up.

"No man kneels at the Altar of Masonry and rises the same man, because, in the place where the dross and selfish was, is put a little of the most Divine spark which men may see. Where was the self-interest is put an interest in others. Where was the egotism is put love for one's fellow man.

"You say that the "fraternity has no function." Man, the fraternity performs the greatest function of any institution at work among men, in that it provides a common meeting ground where all of us, be our creed, our social position, our wealth, our ideas, our station in life what they may, may meet and understand one another.

"What was the downfall of Rome? Class hatred. What caused the Civil war? Failure of one people to understand another, and an unequality of men which this country could not endure. What caused the Great War? Class hatred. What is the greatest leveler of class in the world? Masonry. Where is the only place in which a capitalist and laborer, socialist and democrat, fundamentalist and modernist, Jew and Gentile, gentle and simple alike meet and forget their differences? In a Masonic lodge, boy, through the influence of Masonry...Masonry, which opens her portals to men because they are men, not because they are wealthy or wise or foolish or great or small but because they seek the brotherhood which only she can give.

"Masonry has no function? Why, son, the function of charity, great as it is, is the least of the things Masonry does; the fellowship in the lodge room, beautiful as it is, is at best not much more than one can get in any good club, association, organization. These are the beauties of Masonry, but they are also beauties of other organizations. The great fundamental beauty of Masonry is all her own. She, and only she, stretches a kindly and loving hand around the world, uniting millions in a bond too strong for breaking. Time has demonstrated that Masonry is too strong for war; too strong for hate, too strong for jealousy and fear; the worst of men have used the strongest of means and have but pushed Masonry to one side for the moment; not all their efforts have broken her, or ever will!

"Masonry gives us all a chance to do and to be; to do a little, however humble the part, in making the world better; to be a little larger, a little fuller in our lives, a little nearer to the G.A.O.T.U. And unless a man understands this, and believe it, and take it to his heart and live it in his daily life, and strive to show it forth to others in his every act; unless he live and love and labor in his Masonry, I say he is no Master Mason; aye, though he belong to all Rites and carry all cards, though he be hung as a Christmas tree with jewels and pins, though he be an officer in all bodies. But the man who has it in his heart, and sees in Masonry the chance to be in reality what he has sworn he would be, a brother to his fellow Masons, is a Master Mason though he be raised but tonight, belongs to no organization but his Blue Lodge and be too poor to buy and wear a single pin."

The Young Brother, looking down, unfastened the emblem from his coat label and handed it to the Old Past Master.

"Of course, you are right," he said, lowly. "Here is my pin. Don't give it back to me until you think I am worthy to wear it."

The Old Past Master smiled. "I think you would better put it back now," he answered gently. "None are more fit to wear the square and compass than those who know themselves unworthy, for they are those who strive to be real Masons." THE BETTER WAY

"See that young chap over there? Yes, with the red hair and the glasses! Had quite a time with him this evening! He is red-headed inside as well as out, and he loves Masonry so much he wants to fight for her all the time!

"What was his trouble? Oh, he wanted to prefer charges against a brother and have a Masonic trial and purge the fraternity of a rascal and be a sort of combination Sir Galahad, Joan of Arc and Carrie Nation to this lodge.

"It seems he has some inside information about some brother of this lodge who has done several things a Mason ought not to do. Sold some goods by misrepresentation, worked his women employees longer than the law allow and threatened to fire them if they told, kited a check or two and was warned by the bank.... I really don't know all his high crimes and misdemeanors!

"But it's all fixed now. Red head is calmed down. There will be no preferring of charges just yet!

"Glad of it! I should say I am glad of it. Don't get the idea in your head that preferring charges and holding a Masonic trial are matters to be joyful about! At times... sad times they are... it is necessary to do it. But there are many more times when it could be done, but it is far, far wiser not to do it.

"I had to agree with him, of course, that our erring brother was no ornament to the lodge, if what was said of him was true. I admitted freely that a man like that should never have been permitted to be a Mason. But I couldn't see that throwing him out would do the fraternity any good and it would certainly not do him any good. And it would do us a great deal of harm, both as a lodge and individually.

"You don't see why? Well, let me tell you. Ever since Cain wanted to know whether he was his brother's keeper, men have felt that they were their brother's keepers. And so, indeed, we should be. But 'keeper' doesn't mean prosecutor. When you 'keep' your brother, you keep him from harm, you keep him from evil, you keep him from danger. You do not throw him under the wheels, push him out into the cold, do him an injury. When you 'keep' your brother, it is the man, not his conscience, you keep.

"The Jesuits showed the world what keeping as man's conscience for him might do; it resulted in the inquisition. Masonry has no business following in such footsteps. We do not, and should not, try to keep our brother's conscience. We should, indeed, aid him, help him; we should try to show him the right if he is wrong, we should, indeed, 'in the most friendly manner, remind him of his faults.' But it is a far cry from this to holding a trial and kicking him out.

"When is a Masonic trial right? Well, to my mind, only when a man has done something which, unregarded and unpunished by his lodge, will hurt Masonry more than the scandal of getting rid of him will hurt it. Now this brother has not as yet been disgraced in society. He has not been arrested, tried or convicted. He may, or may not be guilty of those things with which the red head charges him. It is good American doctrine to believe a man innocent until he is proved otherwise, and Masons are good Americans. For the lodge to take the initiative in a trial for offence against a civil law would be both unMasonic and unwise.

"Leave him alone? Certainly not. He won't be left alone. This man has friends in this lodge. Red head is getting them together and laying his 'facts' if they are facts, before them. Those friends can be trusted to see that the man is told of the talk which is going on, and given a chance to explain, to deny, to affirm, to mend his ways if they need mending. Obviously, we don't want as a brother in the lodge a man who continuously violates the common tenets of all humanity, but equally as obviously, we don't want to accuse and stigmatize a man as doing so, unless we know we are right.

"Every man knows that a man unjustly accused before the law and acquitted is never wholly cleared from the taint. There are always some who say 'yes he was accused and got off. But they took him to court,' as if it was a disgrace. The man who is tried by Masonry for an offense, and acquitted must always be, to his brethren a man about whom scandal was whispered. There are always those who say 'no smoke without some fire.' So we don't want to prefer charges and have a trial unless we are pretty sure of what we know and equally sure of what we want to do. It is much better for any lodge to have one bad egg in its omelette, than to spoil the whole omelette. One bad egg in a ten egg omelette will spoil it, but in a five hundred egg omelette it isn't so noticeable. It is much better for us to go quietly after this brother and try to get him to do better, to appeal to his manliness, his Masonry, his friendship, than it is to insist on a Masonic trial.

"No, my brother, there are better ways. The charges preferred, the Masonic trial, the disgrace, the scandal, the hard feelings are very bad for a lodge, very hard on those who take part, very severe on the one who is either acquitted or held guilty. Never, until all other means have been tried and found unsuccessful, should they be used; never then, until several wise heads have been consulted. When the time comes, when there is no other course open, then may charges be preferred and a trial held, and the lodge purged of that evil element which is harming it. But we must be very sure that the remedy isn't worse than the disease, and that in scotching the snake we are not also fatally injuring the hand which scotches.

"Red head listened to reason; his friends and those of a brother who may be at fault will do the rest and the good old lodge will never be hurt. And under all, and over all, we will have the happy knowledge that we are practising that toleration and charity of thought which makes us our brother's keeper in the best, not the worst sense of the word."

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