YOU THE MASON AND THE NEWLY INITIATED
Bro. A. S. Hovan
Speaking before so large an audience is an initiatory experience and my feelings can best be explained by a story about our young girl Olympic swimming team. A reporter asked if there was any exercise they did before their competition and one young lady said "Yes, we run to the bathroom a lot".
The theme, 'You the Mason and the Newly Initiated', is a fitting subject for me, being recently initiated. I shall not attempt to philosophize or explain the mysteries, allegories or symbols of Free-Masonry as there are those who are more learned and more qualified.
Instead, allow me to share with you the reasons why I wanted to be a Mason and some of my personal feelings and views from initiation to the present time. although many feelings will be similar to yours, the opinions expressed will differ and some of the views not in accordance with those you may have. From this I sincerely hope you may find something to discuss.
As a boy, I remember our local general merchant as a fine, kind, generous and honest person. He was honest with his customers as he was with his business associates, charitable towards all and literally charitable to those in need. I knew he was a Mason. how did I know? This question was put to me by the Grand Master at one of the meetings of the theme speakers. He wanted to know if he wore any symbol or a sign proclaiming the fact. It seemed I had always known this, but pondering the question later, recalled that this fact was discovered at a Masonic funeral. It was here that his identity as a Mason and that of many others was revealed to all those present. May I point out, that this was the first and last Masonic funeral I have seen or attended.
This was my first experience and contact with not only a Mason, but a practising Mason, and I decided then, that if this is what Masonry stood for, then I wanted to be a Mason. Upon reaching maturity, I approached my father-in-law, a very devoted Mason, on the subject of petitioning. His answer was that true Masonry was a way of life, not just a Fraternity or society and was not to be taken lightly, that unless I was willing to dedicate myself wholly and for a lifetime, he would not recommend the step be taken.
The war postponed any action or idea of petitioning and before leaving for overseas, he assured me that he would gladly sponsor me if upon my return this is still what I wished. So an appointment was made, but never fulfilled, as he died a few months before the war ended. Thus, the Supreme Governor of the Universe, or Providence as some would call it, interfered in the plans of mice and men, and although I grieved his passing I was grateful I did not petition at that time. Upon reaching maturity I know now that one must be matured mentally as well, and I was not. There are those who feel that since the majority has been reduced to 18 that we too should adopt this also as being of mature age. I heartily disagree with this view as I do not believe they are mentally mature to fully appreciate the meaning of freemasonry and would quickly lose interest.
Maturity brought with it doubts as to whether my qualifications were enough to justify membership. My public avocation was such that it would be impossible to dedicate the time and energy that Masonry would demand, which entailed further postponement. The years quickly passed and the circumstances of employment, which gave me more free time plus the fact that my wife was a member of the Eastern Star, and both sons members of DeMolay, convinced me that it was time to petition.
Approaching a Masonic friend, knowing no more about him than he was a Mason, I discovered he was the Secretary of his Lodge and filed a petition. Here was a close friend of twenty years, who had been a Master of his Lodge, a District Deputy Grand Master and Secretary for quite a number of years. I knew he was a Mason only because of the Masonic functions he attended. He never wore any Masonic identification, never said he was a Mason, and I never asked, not wanting to pry into his private affairs.
I mentioned this fact as well as the identity of the General Merchant to point out that a great number of Masons, deliberately or inadvertently maintain anonymity with the uninitiated. Surely you must have been as surprised to discover after your initiation, how many friends and people you knew who were members of the Craft. Most wear no identification for fear of being considered ostentatious. The Fraternity as a whole and the Lodges carry this farther by never publishing the identity of our Grand Lodge Officers or the Masters of our Lodges outside fraternal publications. It is small wonder then that the public thinks we are a secretive organization — we even keep secret the identity of leaders of our Fraternity. This is why I agree with the Grand Master's plan of Church Parades in Masonic Dress. With so few or no Masonic Funerals the appearance of Masons in public is as rare as a dodo bird. Being so secretive and obscure, how and why do we obtain candidates? By reputation, most would reply, but it would be interesting to find our how many of our members, and initiates, have some Masonic history in the family. It would also be interesting to find out what a public survey would reveal on the question "What is Masonry?"
After petitioning, waiting for a decision was not easy. Hearsay gave me the impression that this was an exclusive Fraternity, and fear of rejection was something to face. Knowing my own shortcomings I began to wonder if they were sufficient to gain entry into so noble a Fraternity. After a very long period of time a notice to appear for initiation came and on the appointed day my Secretary friend and sponsor picked me up and the cornerstone of my Masonic superstructure was laid.
No one is fully prepared mentally for the initiation ceremony. To come into a Lodge blindfolded, you are hesitant of even putting the next foot forward, not that you are afraid of the dark but what lies ahead. Any thought of horseplay and fear of what may lie ahead was dispelled, when after being duly received and before the ceremony began, was told to kneel while a prayer was said, asking the almighty Father for his aid so that by dedicating my life to His service I would become a true and faithful brother.
The initiation ceremony was much more serious and solemn than I had anticipated. My first feelings were ones of humility, then after reflecting on what was expected of me as a Mason, a feeling of gratitude that the Brethren had confidence I would reflect honour on their choice.
It has been said that Masonic initiation is intended to be a profound and revolutionary experience as a result of which the candidate should become a new man. He should acquire a range of new thoughts, a new feeling about mankind, a new idea about God, a new confidence in immorality, a new passion for brotherhood, new generosity and charity. The whole purpose of what is said and done is to bring about such a transformation.
The proper administration of the initiation ritual is vital to obtain the required results and must be given with expression and proficiency. I was fortunate in having officers and brethren who not only knew their work but presented it with feeling and sincerity to gain the results intended. It is impossible to absorb all that is given and a certain confusion and bewilderment prevails throughout the three degrees.
The advice given by my father-in-law many years ago began to make sense: initiation into Freemasonry did not by a single act change my entire nature and make a perfect Mason. This burden would be mine to work at daily for the rest of my life and only to find in the end that the goal is beyond reach. One begins to realize from the first degree — to make a daily advancement in Masonic knowledge. without knowledge one cannot progress, without progress you become stagnant and interest dies.
The periods between the degrees were ones of memory work and of questions. There seemed to be such an urgency to get things memorized before the next meeting. It seemed to be organized confusion and bewilderment. Here I had not fully understood the initiation ceremony and now the second degree was added and before knowing too much about that, the third degree to maintain the confusion.
My mentor was most helpful and had answers to most of the questions I asked. If he could not give me the answer, he would get it for me before our next meeting. It seemed that the answers to my questions posed more questions and his patience must have been taxed to the limit. There must have been times when he wished that the enthusiasm, the urgency and zeal were just a little less, as we spent many long hours together. If Freemasonry gave me no more than the friendship and brotherly love of so fine a Mason and gentleman then it would not have been a wasted effort. The hours we spent together as teacher and student were some of the most rewarding periods I have experienced.
There is a story told about an investigation committee which was interviewing a prospective candidate and after asking him the necessary questions they asked if he had any questions. He said "Yes, does this Fraternity have any death benefits?" "It certainly does" one of the investigating committee assured him "When you die you don't have to pay any dues".
This to us, as Masons, is a humorous story, but for many, these are all the benefits they will receive from Freemasonry. Once they are raised they will go no farther and most will continue to pay dues and remain in good standing. There is a friend of mine who has not attended a single meeting since his initiation and does not intend to do so in the future. His only purpose or reason for becoming a Mason in name was the hope that the association with so honourable an institution would give him an air of respectability.
There are others, who after a few years of faithful and enthusiastic attendance begin dropping off until it is years since they have attended a meeting. There are many reasons for this and you must have heard it discussed many times. Some find that it just isn't what they want or expected, but there is the occasional one who stopped going for the simple reason he was not employed or instructed.
Our ritual tells us it is the duty of the Master to employ and instruct the Brethren, it is also the duty of the senior brethren to assist him. I asked one such brother why he did not attend his Lodge and he said that he was never employed — never given office or even placed on a committee. He was a timid man and said he could not get up before his brethren — yet he must have done so when he repeated his obligation and answered the necessary questions.
No one is without nervousness and stage fright, even those who are in front of audiences daily get butterflies. Some more so than others, and the more fright the greater the challenge. To control one's emotions is a basic part of becoming a true Mason. R.W. Bro. J.H. Laycraft in a paper given at an Interprovincial Conference at Banff said "The ability to stand up and speak clearly and effectively before one's brethren has to be learned and developed. Every help and encouragement should be given to the new candidate as he seeks to express his ideas and thoughts in the presence of others. The ability to think on one's feet, and to speak clearly and effectively in discussion and debate is well worth cultivating. Elementary as this may seem, the candidate in Masonry should be encouraged to express his thoughts and to participate in discussion."
Here was a brother that was not taught to get up and speak — not encouraged to express his thoughts. He was not encouraged to read and probably the only Masonic Books he saw or read were his Constitution, the Lodge By-Laws and the Monthly Grand Lodge Bulletin.
Not all can become leaders, there are those who must be led. This man was not offered office not did he want it at that time, but he was not employed otherwise. Surely he could have been put to work on a committee or been given some subject to research. The sad part of all was the fact no one enquired why he quit attending.
He went to Lodge alone most times and here is a fault that should be corrected. I would suggest two or more of the senior brethren be appointed by the Master to be responsible for one of the younger brethren to see that they get to Lodge and to help them in anyway they could. That brethren, younger in years, be appointed to look after the more aged — to see that they get to Lodge, to be concerned about them, take them with you to visit other Lodges, know about their necessities, their afflictions and to do something if required, in other words to put to practice the Masonic principle of brotherly love.
Oscar Hammerstein, the lyricist of rodgers and Hammerstein wrote the following:
A bell is no bell till you ring it
A song no song till you sing it
And love in your heart wasn't put there to sta
Love isn't love till you give it away.
In retrospect, let me look toward the older brethren, What does the new raised Mason expect of him — what does he believe him to be? His actions and behaviour not only in Lodge but in his every day or public life are most important, and the image and example set by him are most vital to the impression the new brethren will establish. He must prove that Freemasonry gained its reputation as an honourable institution by the conduct of its members, by reputation and not by proclamation.
Inquiring about a Lodge brother whose absence from Lodge had become quite apparent, I asked a close friend of his if illness was the cause of his absence. His answer was "No. He is not sick, but he has gone through all the chairs and what is left for him?" As a younger brother, I said nothing but thought, is that all there is to Freemasonry for him? As a Master he was charged that the honour, reputation and usefulness of his Lodge would depend upon the skill and ability with which he managed its affairs, while the happiness of the brethren would be generally promoted in proportion to the zeal and assiduity with which he promulgated the tenets and principles of the Fraternity. Does one shed these responsibilities with the office? For my next observation, I must go back to the initiation ceremony and the lecture in the N.E. Corner and the statement about the custom to awaken the feeling of every newly initiated brother, making a claim on his charity as his circumstances in life may warrant. Your principles were put to the test as a warning to your own heart, that should you at a future period meet a brother in circumstances of distress you would reflect that moment. The charge in the second degree goes farther and asks that you supply the want and relieve the necessity of brethren and fellows to the utmost of your power and ability. This means not only Fraternal Brotherhood but total brotherhood which includes all mankind. The reference to charity in this instance is to alms giving but throughout the ritual I do not believe this is what is meant generally. Most references are toward charity as being love of our fellow man.
Once a year Grand Lodge asks for charity — it is the alms giving that is requested. I refer to the Higher Education Bursary Fund. Looking at the poor showing one can only say the feelings that were awakened must have gone back to sleep. As a new initiate I am quite concerned with this image of Freemasonry, which the young brethren will observe. It is a poor example of the conduct of others.
At this point, I would like to tell a story. Before the advent of radios, railroads used hand signals from the tail end of a train to the head end and the engineer had to look back for these signals. when he forgot to look back the only way to get his attention was to pull the emergency cord, which was referred to as pulling the air. there is a story told about a conductor who kept a parrot in the caboose and it had picked up quite a foul vocabulary. The superintendent riding in the caboose took offence at the language of the bird and told the conductor to get rid of it at the next stop. The parrot was abandoned at a stockyard. In the pen were a horse and some ducks. When the train took off with a couple of toots of the whistle the horse took off with his tail up. The ducks took to flight and one duck brushed the horses rump and down came his tail and he trapped the duck. the duck squawked and the horse went faster and the more the duck squawked the faster the horse ran. The parrot watched the performance for some time then yelled at the duck "pull the air on the S.O.B. He won't look back."
Freemasonry being a progressive institution it is fit and proper that we all stop and look back to see how we have advanced Masonically. With our goal so far beyond view it is only by looking back to where we started that we can judge our progress. Only you alone can judge how far you have come, as only you know the point where you began.
Following the three fundamental principles of our order, and the practice of all moral virtues can be compared to swimming against an incoming tide, ease up or stop swimming and you are washed backward to where you started or beyond. With the rising tide of today's immorality a person could easily be swept backward without knowing it has happened.
It is the last of the three principles, truth, by which we are able to assess our progress by being truthful and honest with ourselves and to judge whether we have become more tolerant, more forgiving, more prudent, more temperate, more understanding, more loving, more charitable, less bigoted and less envious.
Freemasonry appears such a field for the reformer. Here is a body of selected men, united by indissoluble covenants working out a few grand simple principles of architecture and having celestial wages in view.
The celestial wages we seek are those of immortality. The belief in the immortality of the soul is the eternal lesson and foundation of Freemasonry. The legend of third degree and the tragedy of Hiram Abiff brings this home to the new initiate.
Laying there in the darkness, shrouded and representing our Grand Master, many thoughts run through your mind. You have time to contemplate just what we are searching for in life, and that death is the entrance to a better life. That material things are not important and that the most important things we can leave behind are those that we may have done for others. Too often we become so involved in looking after our body comforts we forget that which we are seeking and that there are more than creature wants and pleasures.
The final three knocks of the Tyler when closing our Lodges is to me a sad thing, so final. It means the end of a fraternal meeting, the end of a warm fraternal brotherhood, with lingering memories of the warmth of the assuring clasp of a handshake. When we depart this mortal world and close the Lodge of life here on this earth, the final three knocks by the Tyler will have closed the meeting with our mortal brethren, but the three knocks will also open the door to the Greater Lodge which is ruled by the Grand Architect of the Universe and the Junior Warden's toast "Happy to meet, sorry to part, happy to meet again" will mark the end of our meeting in this mortal world and the sorrow of parting that our mortal brothers will feel and the final and everlasting meeting in that immortal world, which is the ultimate goal of our worldly efforts.
Now homeward come, my mission I return
To this warm brotherhood, dear sons of light
My testimony stands, my work is done
Yours is the honour as is just and right
Be all your jewels bright, your aprons ever white.