St. John’s Day, Festivals, And Christmas
Times And Seasons
BY the time this is published the annual meetings of many of the lodges will have taken place; annual dues will have been aid, and officers elected and installed to serve the ensuing year. Probably the annual supper will follow, when toasts will be proposed, speeches made, song and sentiment prevail, and all be happy. The year is ending, the work is nearly done — or ought to be — and the Craft, like others, will enjoy the central festival of the year. It is the winter solstice, the anniversary of the birth of St. John the, Evangelist, one of the Patron Saints of Freemasonry; but, more than all this, to a Christian people, Christmas will be here! May I not wish you, Bro. Brown, and all your subscribers a merry Christmas, a good dinner, good time, cheerful memories, pleasant anticipations, and a happy New Year?
There are always sunny memories at Christmas time; the recollections of childhood, the snow and the sleigh-rides; the friends that gather in; the nuts, the apples, and the roast turkey, and a thousand little items and events that have left memories still green and pleasant — even in advanced years. We are in the old home again, with brother and sister and cousin; the table filled with the treasures Santa Claus has brought us; and there is the stately father who, though in middle life as he is, looks on the scene with delight. But the central figure, the one to which all eyes are turned, and around which all the glad little ones gather is — MOTHER. Who can ever forget her? In distant lands; or near at home, — in health or sickness, in poverty or wealth — she is still the centre of fondest memories and most sacred affections. We pity the man who, though in advanced years, does not love at Christmas time to kneel again at his mother's knee, and feel her soft hand once more on his brow, and the old kiss that thrilled him in his childhood. It is said there is "no love like mother-love," and it is reflected by her boy in infancy or age.
We remember reading a description of the consecration of a Bishop in the Catholic church in Baltimore, some years since. In making his first procession around the church, dressed in his robes, and with crook and crozier, he came to where his mother sat at the end of the pew next the aisle. Their eyes met — hers full of tears, for priest and bishop as he was, he was still her boy; and nature asserted its supremacy both in mother and son. The bishop paused, bent down and kissed his mother, and then passed on in his official duties. Earth never witnessed a more tender and touching demonstration of the holy love that binds mother and son together.
But, excuse me, Bro. Brown, I am only half a Mason to-day, for Christmas is coming, and I am a child again, happy in the memories of young life, and worshiping at the shrine of mother — long since an angel!
The season is suggestive to all reflecting Masons. May I ask if, when gathered around your festive board, you will remember the poor, the widow, and the orphan? He is, or was, your brother, though a snow wreath may cover his grave to-night; his widow is your sister — his orphans your wards. If you expect to prosper the coming year — even if duty be forgotten for the time being — don't forget that poor brother, his widow and orphans. Ascertain if there be fuel to keep them warm, and food and clothing for their comfort. Send them something anyhow; put your hands away down into your purses, and let your heart get warm while yon find you "have enough and to spare;" and let a good big Christmas or New Year's gift go to the needy and absent ones. You will feel better and sleep better afterward. And, perhaps, in months or years to come, when yon are beneath the snowdrift, some of those orphans may recall your kindly deeds and drop a tear on your tomb.
We would not give a straw for all the Masonry in the world, if there be no kindliness and charity in it, — if it does not lay self upon the altar, and engage in ministering to the poor and the needy; to aid and assist if your means permit it, your poor brother, his widow and orphans. If Masonry does not prompt to this, better abandon it at once. And now is the time to have it exert its influence, and do good, "to the memory of the Holy St. John," when you can make others happy, and be happier yourselves.
There is something about the character of St. John the Evangelist, as tradition and history describe him to us, that is peculiarly suggestive of charity, and all the finer feelings of humanity. Poetry and painting both represent him as young in years, and beautiful in form and features, with a face from which is reflected the tints of a blissful spring morning, radiant with holiest affection and the auroral of "a glorious immortality." He was the son of Zebedee and Salome, and a brother to James the Greater, another of the Apostles. His father was a fisherman, and the sons followed his profession with him on the Sea of Galilee. Salome, the mother of these two disciples, is described as a devout woman, who was noted for her charities and good works, and it is said she obtained the crown of martyrdom. Of the father, Zebedee, history gives us few details.
St. John followed his Master through three years of his ministry, and was at Calvary when he died. That Master, when on the cross, had commended his mother to the filial care of that "beloved" disciple, who at once "took her to his own house," and, we may reasonably conclude, provided for her while she remained on earth. He was afterwards an active and effective evangel under the new dispensation, and was twice imprisoned for his faith. By his activity and success as an evangelist, he incurred the displeasure of the Emperor Domitian, who caused him to be banished to the Island of Patmos, in the Aegean Sea. Here he wrote that wonderful book, the Revelations. His epistles are supposed to have been written about the year sixty-nine; while his Gospel was produced in Asia some twenty years after the destruction of Jerusalem. He died at Ephesus in the ninety-eighth year of his age.
How the name of John the Evangelist became connected with Freemasonry we are not advised. No one who has any knowledge of Masonic history believes that the Fraternity, as we have had it for the last two or three centuries, existed in the days of the Evangelist, and consequently he could not have been a member of it. The strong probability is that sometime in the centuries, say three to four hundred years ago, in the changes and revisions through which the Order passed the name of the two saints John became connected with it, as exemplars of its moral precepts, — the one as a Jew, the other as a Christian.
But I shall leave the subject just here, believing that I have said enough to induce a closer study of his life and character, as well as an exemplification of his virtues.
But it is said the twenty-seventh of December will be the anniversary of his birth; yet even of this we are not certain, nor does it matter greatly. The church and the ages have settled down to the belief in the day named; and the exact date is not half so important as the illustrations of the duties and virtues which he taught.
While we write this the Craft are anticipating St. John's day, and we will venture some suggestions by which the time and the occasion may be used to advance the interests of Masonry, and benefit the members individually. It is an auspicious season of the year: there is a change of officials, and the lodge is reorganized for the efforts and achievements of another year. Make the meetings of the lodge for the coming year agreeable and interesting: make them so attractive that the members will prefer them to the club or the theatre, then you will have your halls full of attentive and interested members. Cultivate music, have an organ or a piano, and a choir; work out the degrees with all the necessary adjuncts; then you will soon be pressed with work, your hall will be filled with an active membership, and a cordon of fraternal sympathy and affection will bind them together for life.
There is a form of doing the work in lodges sometimes, which I will venture to call machine work, as though an automaton were the actor. It is always the same, in tone and manner and expression, as destitute of soul and sentiment as a grindstone is of music. Do you wonder members avoid the lodge? It would be a greater wonder if they came at all! Again I urge -make your meetings for this year so attractive that members will watch for the time and attend without urging, and by next St. John's Day you will have no cause to complain of your meetings or your membership.
"A lodge is a place where Masons meet," but there is no harm — nay, a real benefit in having occasional meetings where others than Masons are admitted. Such meetings should be purely social in their character, with conversation, music, and brief addresses, while readings and recitations added make the occasion one to be remembered. At such times admit by cards, but be careful to issue cards to none but such ladies and gentlemen as you would invite to your own family circle. Such occasions will win popularity for the Order, and secure you the very choicest candidates for its mysteries.
But we fear the readers of the VOICE will tire of our monitions and suggestions; so we will make our bow to St. John's Day, annual meetings and suppers, toasts, speeches and songs, and wish all a MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR.