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"What's troubling you?" asked the Old Past Master of a serious-faced brother who sat down next to him.
"So much I hardly know where to begin to tell it," came the response. "I try to be an optimist, but I can't help feeling that, practically speaking, Masonry is a failure, and it depresses me horribly, because I love it."
"Now that's too bad," said the Old Past Master soberly. "Masonry is a failure, practically speaking! That would depress me, too, because I also love it. In fact, I should think it would depress a great many men."
"Yes it would.... a lot of men love it," said the troubled brother.
"Suppose you explain why it is practically speaking a failure," said the Old Past Master. "If I ought to be depressed because of such a condition I think I ought to know it."
The troubled brother looked up suspiciously, but the grave face in front of him wore no smile. If the old eyes twinkled they were hidden by solemn lids from the penetrating glance of the troubled brother.
"Well, it's this way," he began. "Masonry teaches brotherhood. Naturally, your brother is a man on whom you can depend; he is worthy of trust. One believes in one's brother. One backs his note and expects to be paid; one is willing to trust one's wife, one's life, one's good name, to a real brother.
"But there are a good many men who are Masons that I know are not worthy of my trust, merely because they are Masons. They are my brethren because I have sworn with them the same obligations and professed the same faith. But I do not think I could trust them with that which is of value to me, and I know they wouldn't trust me with what is of value to them. I don't mean they are not good men, but I don't feel that my Masonic bond is strong enough to give me the complete trust which a real brotherhood should provide and I don't think they feel it either.
"If I were in a strange city and a man came up to me and wanted to borrow two dollars and pointed to a Masonic pin as the reason, I wouldn't lend it to him. And if I walked into a strange bank and tried to cash a check for twenty dollars on the strength of my Masonic pin, I wouldn't get it."
"A pin, you know," put in the Old Past Master, "is not real evidence of being a Mason!"
"No, but even if I could convince the banker I really was a Mason he wouldn't cash my check without identification. And I wouldn't give money to a stranger even if I knew he was a Mason, because....well, because my brotherhood hasn't struck deep enough, I guess. And so it seems to me that practically speaking, Masonry is a failure."
"And yet you say you love it!" sorrowed the Old Past Master. My brother, you have, in the language of the street, got hold of the wrong dog.
"Now let me talk a minute. Your blood brother is a man you love. You were children together, you fought with him and for him. You shared his joys and sorrows. You learned him, through and through. If you love him and trust him, it is not because of your mutual parentage, but because of your association. Two boys are not blood brothers, but raised as brothers, may have the same tender love and trust. It isn't the brotherhood of the flesh, but the brotherhood of spirit, that makes for love and trust.
"You complain because you don't have that feeling for a stranger. Had you been parted from your blood brother at birth, and never seen nor heard of him until he met you on the street and demanded money while offering proof of his blood relationship, would you trust him without knowing the manner of man he had come to be? Merely because he was a blood relative wouldn't mean he was the type of man you are. He might have become anything during these years of separation.
"Now, my brother, when you became a Mason you assumed a tie of brotherhood with all the other Masons of the world. But you did not assume any obligation to make that tie of brotherhood take the place of all the virtues which are in the Masons of the world, or the virtues possessed by the profane. If you are a true Mason you will extend Masonic brotherhood, practically, to those Masons who hold out the brotherly hand to you; which means those men who are able and willing to prove themselves brothers and Masons, not merely those who belong to lodges and wear pins.
"The world is one big compromise, my brother, between things as they are and things as we would like to have them. You would like to be rich, and you compromise by getting what you can. You would like to be famous, and you compromise by being as well known as you can and doing the best you can to deserve fame. You would like to be the most highly skilled man in your profession, but you have to compromise with perfection on the one hand, and the need of earning a living on the other. As a Mason, you would like to trust on sight every Mason in the world, but you have to compromise with this fact that all Masons are human beings first and Masons afterwards, and human beings are frail and imperfect.
"Masonry makes no man perfect. It merely holds out one road by which a man may travel towards the goal of spiritual perfection more easily and with more help than by other roads. It had no motive power to drive men over that road; but it smooths the way and points the path. The travel is strictly up to the individual brother.
"If you trust those whom you know travel that path, they will trust you....and Masonry will be, practically speaking, for you both a success. If you travel with your eyes open, you will see many who fall by the wayside, not because the way is plain and smooth, but because they are too weak to travel it. That is the fault, not of the road, but of the traveler.
"And so, my brother, Masonry cannot be a failure, because men fail as Masons. As well say the church is a failure because an evil man goes to it; as well call Christ a failure because all men are not Christians. The failure is in the man, not in the beautiful philosophy which is Masonry."
"And I," said the troubled brother, "Am a failure now because I have failed to understand. But not in the future, thanks to you."
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Last modified: March 22, 2014