Vol. XXIII No. 5 — May 1945

“The Best Things in the Worst Times”

The Editor is indebted to Dr. and Brother Frederick Brown Harris, chaplain of the Senate, for the idea for this Bulletin.

There is power in words and those who have coined certain phrases have seen miracles worked as a result. How much did England’s courage derive from Churchill's "Blood, sweat and tears”? “To make the world safe for democracy” fought a war. “The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here” is as immortal as Lincoln.

In a small church in Leicestershire, England, is a dedicatory tablet which reads:

In the year 1653, when all things sacred were throughout the nation either demolished or profaned, Sir Robert Shirley, baronet, founded this church, whose singular praise it is to have done the best things in the worst times and hoped them in the most calamitous.

Few will deny that our present times are “the worst times” and also "the most calamitous” which the sad old world has ever seen. No other war has ever taken so much from so many; no other conflict has ever raised so many questions which the wisest of men now living frankly do not know how to solve. It is as if the great god Mars, in loosing the lightnings of shell and gun and plane and submarine and land-mine and blockbuster, had also taken the lid from a Pandora’s box of troubles which have grown great in the battle smoke; questions of injustices to small nations, of labor unrest, of political upsets, of destruction of ideals, of loss of faith in God and man.

Yet within the worst times men of all faiths or the lack of any faith have undertaken and are doing the best things; especially has Freemasonry put on its working clothes and gone forth to labor for “the best things in the worst times” and has done and is now succeeding in doing good works for the benefit of brethren and profane alike, such as the Ancient Craft in all its history has never before dreamed of doing.

Accomplishments are to the credit of grand lodges and lodges, which without the stimulus of horror, the mainspring of pity and sympathy, the power of unselfishness generated by bitter human needs would never have come out into the open and stood up to be counted.

For a time at the beginning of the war Masonry seemed to suffer. Gasoline rationing cut down attendance. Men’s minds seemed upon other things than ritual and degrees and lodge meetings. For years all grand lodges had suffered losses in membership. Then — it almost seemed as if someone had pulled a trigger to release pent-up forces — Masonry sprang forward. Attendance increased. Members who had not been to lodge much came out. Petitions began to come in. Interest revived. In ’43 the stream became a river — in ’44 the river turned to a torrent. Today grand lodges and lodges prosper with a new spirit.

“Because of money?” Ah, no! True it is that many now have the means to become Masons which they lacked before and undoubtedly an easier economic situation has increased the number of petitions. But it is not money which provides the new interest; it is not money which draws men, Masons for years, again to the altar.

“The best things in the worst times” easily may be the unvoiced necessity which so many feel for a closer kinship with the spiritual verities and the ethical values of life. It is not material prosperity but spiritual poverty which leads men again to church and Masonic altar. Men see all their standards of life demolished; the things to which they have clung as matters of ingrained habit are blasted out of existence by struggles which know no law of God or man. He who has believed in the inherent honesty of his fellows, in the rightness of moral law, in the sanctity of the home, in the essential truth of religion, sees a world which has substituted trickery for honesty, “do as you please” for moral law, homes which are no longer sanctuaries and religion abolished either by law or common consent.

Where can he turn, what can he do, how shall he find that inner support which previously was given by character and belief in what had always seemed fundamental?

Many find it in church. Some brethren find it in the principles and the teachings of Freemasonry.

For these do not change. The worried, the anxious, the distressed are troubled by the falling apart of the world they knew. What more natural that in these “the worst times” they turn to the “best things” which they believe will not change because they never have changed?

About the Masonic altar brethren gather to renew an old faith — hardly a lost faith, or they would not return to it — but a faith which has been, perhaps, badly shaken by a shaking world. In its rays of fight the troubled find something of the eternal to remind them that all troubles are mortal — man, immortal. By its Shekinah men see a promise of a better world to come. And through its gentle influence differences are composed, anxieties allayed and courage revived.

Are these not “best things” in "worst times?”

Interest in Masonic education has seen a great increase in the last few years. Where one brother read a Masonic book five years ago, a dozen read it now. More speakers are available with interesting tales to tell of the structure, the history, the romance of Freemasonry. Perhaps the radio quizzes were father to the idea of the lodge quiz, but whatever the genesis, more and more lodges are staging these costless and interesting evenings, apparently to the great pleasure of the brethren Perhaps these are small rather than best things, but it is not difficult to recall days of peace and prosperity when Masonic education and Masonic reading were only for a small and self-selected circle; now in “the worst times” they are definitely on the upgrade.

Every grand lodge in the United States has some plan and pursues some ideal of service to the soldiers and sailors who wage a successful war for America. For many grand lodges this is participation in the welfare work of The Masonic Service Association — contributions of more than three-fourths of a million dollars in 1944 for this work are incontrovertible evidence of the intense interest which Masons take in Masonic work for the armed forces. A number of grand lodges have raised very large funds among their members to be spent by grand lodge for welfare for uniformed personnel. And the work done — both by grand lodges individually and The Masonic Service Association — is not confined to the erection and operation of Service Centers, but extends to lodge contacts, letter writing to men in the service, help in personal problems at home — in other words, not only hospitality but Masonic service.

The hospital visitation work initiated by The Masonic Service Association is very definitely to be classed among “the best things in the worst times.” To visit the sick has long been a Masonic plan. But it would be idle to deny that, no matter how meticulously performed by any lodge for its own members, in any organized program for the benefit of the wounded it has been more talked about than real.

Nor is that either a matter of wonder or of blame. For Masons are no less busy men than non-Masons, and have no more time for continuous hospital visitations than any other class. Adequately to serve wounded men in great hospitals required trained workers, brethren whose sole business it is to visit the wounded, ask their wants, bring them news and comfort, if need be, write their letters and get them contacts.

This is definitely the hospital visitation program of the Association, which carries the greetings and gives the handclasp of all Masonry to the wounded in government hospitals — a “best thing” of which the Fraternity can humbly be proud and which has made many a wounded lad rise up to call the Craft blessed.

In a hospital for the blinded veterans two young men work side by side, learning a new way of life. One was a watchmaker before he had his eyes shot out. He can never go back to watch making. Skilled fingers can take apart and put together a machine gun in the dark but not a watch. And to add to his trouble he is nearly deaf in one ear.

“So I’m educating my one good ear to take the place of my eyes,” he explained. “Some professions use ears much, eyes little. When I have finished my training here, I will go to work in a factory which makes electrical hearing aids. I’ll be an inspector. They are inspected by ear, not by eye. It seems that the sightless develop a new acuteness of hearing. My partly deaf ear is really an asset, as with it I can learn if a hearing aid speaks loudly enough; with my good ear I can judge its sound quality. Already I can assemble and take one apart, wholly by feeling. I’m not a Mason, but it was a Mason who suggested this to me and who has promised me the job. So I have my chin up. . . .”

The other blinded boy was — is — a pianist. “It seems incredible” he says “but I am happier that they took my eyes than if they had blown off my hands. A blind man can play the piano — look at Alec Templeton! I’m no Templeton, but I can make a living with my fingers and a keyboard. My difficulty is that I can’t, obviously, read music, But I can have it read to me, and write it down as it is read. See” — he showed penciled notes on musical bars — “I have trained myself now so that I can remember even a long piece after I write it twice. . . .”

“Who reads the music to you?” he was asked.

“There are two who do it — one every other day. Both of them are brethren of the local lodge, musicians, of course. They are real brothers to me. . . .”

In countless establishments, including most Masonic lodges, honor rolls proudly display the names — or stars representing them — of those who have gone to fight for liberty and our beloved land.

On many a home door or window flies a small service flag with one or two or three blue stars . . . now, alas, there are also gold stars to be seen.

Humanity regards its young as its greatest wealth, our sons and our daughters — they are our greatest gifts.

To lose one is a tragedy — to lose one in a war is a tragedy in which the wound is cut with a two-edged sword.

But for the rest of us these blue and gold stars, these names on an honor roll, these brethren who now do not walk our halls and stand no more before our altars — they represent something the value of which may not be incommensurate with human life.

For they represent ideals; they represent duty; they represent courage; they represent unselfishness. And of such as these is made the best of what makes life worth living.

Aye, the “best things in the worst times” must include the sacred memories of those who have died for the rest of us; must encompass all the brave men and women who now carry our banner high and draw the steel of honor and of liberty and of democracy in foreign lands.

Freemasonry’s pride in these, and in the sons of brethren, is one of the “best things,” for it is a selfless, a solemn and a humble pride. . . .

More than most, if not more than all philosophies of life, Freemasonry is intensely personal. All the emphasis of the Ancient Craft is placed upon a man’s relations with whatever God he worships and his relationship with and to his fellow man. “Brotherhood” is a pleasant word; if at times it is more pleasant than meaningful, this is not so in Freemasonry.

A story is told of the minister of a little country church in New Hampshire. He had been in this church for fifty years; now he was old and gentle and tired but so beloved of his people he would not retire.

To his church came a distinguished layman, friend of one of the minister’s vestrymen. The vestryman asked if the distinguished layman could have a part in the Sunday morning service.

Of course he could, so it was arranged that he read the 23rd Psalm, which he did, from memory, and very well. Towards the close of the service a note was handed up to the minister. He paused to read it, then read it aloud:

“I came in late. My car broke down. I missed your sermon. Will you send me away inspired by giving us the 23rd Psalm?”

“We have already heard it” the minister said, “But perhaps we can hear it again . . . the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. . . .”

He repeated the immortal lines from memory as had the distinguished layman. But there was something in his voice that the layman had not had; something of understanding and affection and peace and happiness and hope and sympathy. As he finished there were some handkerchiefs to be seen and some coughing and nose blowing to be heard. . . .

On the way home the vestryman commented to the distinguished layman. “You repeated the 23rd Psalm and did it very well. But the audience was not moved. Our minister repeated it and half the congregation was in tears. How do you explain that?”

"Very simply,” answered the distinguished layman a touch of envy in his voice. "I know the Psalm. Your minister knows the Shepherd.”

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Hundreds of thousands of Masons know brotherhood.

The leaders of grand lodges who have planned; the countless number who have contributed to war work; the devoted band which has labored to bring “the best things” to servicemen and women in “the worst times” — is it too much to say that while they may know only brotherhood, Freemasonry knows the Father?

The Masonic Service Association of North America