We practice charity, not only for members and their families, but also for the community at large.
Of the three tenets of a Freemason’s profession, which are Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth, it may be said that Truth is the Column of Wisdom, whose rays penetrate and enlighten the inmost recesses of our Lodge; Brotherly Love, the Column of Strength, which binds us as one family in the indissoluble bond of fraternal affection; and Relief, the Column of Beauty, whose ornaments, more precious than the lilies and pomegranates that adorned the pillars of the porch, are the widow’s tear of joy and the orphan’s prayer of gratitude.
Freemasonry is founded on the moral and ethical doctrines of Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth. These great Masonic tenets are not the starting point for abstract speculation. They are the basis for practical action in the lives of Freemasons. Masons are taught that because all men and women are the children of God, they are brothers and sisters, entitled to dignity, respect, and consideration of their feelings. Each person must learn and practice self-control, to make sure that his or her spiritual nature, the requirement to “do good, and avoid evil,” guides him or her when dealing with other persons. Finally, Freemasonry emphasizes that it is important to work to make this world better for all that live in it.
“Masonry teaches the importance of doing good, not because it assures a person’s entrance into heaven—that’s a question for a religion, not a fraternity—but because we have a duty to all other men and women to make their lives as fulfilling as they can be.
Freemasonry teaches that by the “exercise of Brotherly Love” we are taught to regard all people as the children of God, and therefore part of one great family uniting the rich and the poor, the exalted and the common man. The members of this family are commanded to “aid, support, and protect each other” and to treat each other with justice and kindness.
Standing behind this teaching is the Biblical injunction that “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18). These words mean that the honor and property of our fellowmen should be as dear to us as our own. They are a comprehensive rule of conduct, “containing the essence of religion and applicable in every human relation and towards all men.” Genesis 5:1 proclaims, “This is the book of the generations of man. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made He him.” As this verse teaches reverence for the Divine image in man, it proclaims the unity of mankind, and the resulting doctrine of the brotherhood of man. All men are created in the Divine image, and are therefore our fellowmen and entitled to human love.
Closely related to Brotherly Love is the Masonic principal of Relief for those in distress. To relieve the distressed is a duty incumbent on all men, but particularly on Masons. Freemasons are taught to show compassion for their fellowmen, to treat all in a just and upright manner, and to commit random acts of lovingkindness.
Freemasonry enjoins us to render our neighbor “every kind office which justice or mercy may require, by relieving his distresses and soothing his afflictions; and by doing to him as, in similar cases, you would that he should do unto you.” Masonry teaches, “…and as Justice in a great measure constitutes the really good man, so should it be [his] invariable practice.”
So how then are brothers to treat brothers? Freemasonry‘s answer is that we should treat our fellow men with Justice and Charity. Masonry defines Justice as “that standard or boundary of right which enables us to render unto every man his just due, without distinction.” Justice and righteousness are the major ethical qualities of God and man, upon which all other ethical commandments rest. The Masonic concept of Justice emphasizes equality and the equitable treatment of individuals and peoples, so that every man receives his just due “without distinction” as to rank or wealth or honors.
Because man is created in the image of God, each individual human life is sacred and of infinite worth and deserving of being treated with dignity. Masonry teaches us to honor and respect each individual. It is important that we treat each individual as a personality possessing the right to life, honor, and the fruits of his labor:
Justice is the awe-inspired respect for the personality of others, and their inalienable rights; even as injustice is the most flagrant manifestation of disrespect for the personality of others.
But how is charity to be administered? When we as Masons act charitably, we must do so with kindness and tenderness, so as not to shame the poor or put them in disgrace. The human dignity and personality of the recipients must not be hurt or lowered. A wise man wrote in the 12th century:
Whoever gives charity to the poor with bad grace and downcast looks, though he bestows a thousand gold pieces, all the merit of his action is lost. He must give with good grace, gladly, cheerfully, and with an abundance of sympathy for the poor in his plight. It is the kind word, the gentle reception and sympathetic attitude that help and encourage the poor and needy more than the giving of a coin.
The second highest level is when the one who gives is unaware of the recipient, and the recipient is unaware of the giver. When Freemasons contribute to communal funds or to special charity funds, they are acting on this level of generosity and caring. The Masonic Homes Endowment Fund in California is a classic example of a fund whose resources give great benefits to many, but whose beneficiaries never know the countless donors to this charity.
The highest form of charity is to help sustain a person before he becomes impoverished, by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner or by extending a suitable loan, or by helping him find employment or establish himself in business. Thus it will be unnecessary for him to become dependent upon others.
Freemasonry grants scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students, enabling them to enjoy the benefits of an advanced education, and to become the teachers, doctors, scientists and philosophers for the next generation, who in turn will have an impact on the lives of unknown numbers of people. Charity exercised on the highest levels creates a ripple effect for the benefit of the brotherhood of man.
Masonic philanthropy is distinguished by the fact that with its rich tradition of sharing comes the Masonic ideal of anonymous good works. Freemasonry has seldom or never broadcast its charitable activities to the general public. The public may be aware of the Shrine Hospitals and Burn Centers for children, or perhaps of a Grand Lodge scholarship program, but it knows little of the Masonic homes, and the extent and depth of community support given freely by Masons, lodges, and Grand Lodges.
So private has been Masonic charity in thousands of small, personal examples, that even Masons cannot fully list or tabulate the full extent of Masonic charity in the United States. This desire for privacy for the recipient is basic to the exercise of the Masonic duty to “soothe the unhappy, to sympathize with their misfortunes…and to restore peace to their troubled minds.”
Freemasonry teaches us to respect the personality and sacredness of each individual, to extend the hand of Brotherly Love and friendship to all men and women, and to honor and respect those in the greatest need of material and spiritual support. On this basis we form our friendships and establish our connections.