Seán O’Néill, 32
5013 Woodland Way
Annandale, Virginia

Masonic philanthropy is simply Brotherly Love brought to life by the act of helping others.

How does the world know we are Freemasons? Is there some particular aspect of the Fraternity even more public than our fraternal jewelry and the location of our Lodges? If so, it must be Masonic philanthropy, which is nothing less than Brotherly Love brought to life by the act of helping others.

In his excellent book Masonic Philanthropies, Ill. Bro. S. Brent Morris points out that philanthropy is an integral part of Masonry, not simply another Fraternal activity. It is also an inseparable part of civilization. Philanthropy, from the Greek phrase meaning to love mankind, captures a universal precept—the consideration of another person as we ourselves might wish to be considered. For example, in the Biblical book of Isaiah, that prophet is touched by the spirit of God and given a clearly philanthropic directive: “He hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prisons to them that are bound.”

This is not a political assignment, nor does Isaiah mean that he will advocate prison reform. This passage speaks to the myriad physical, mental, and emotional chains that constrain the growth of human beings: poverty, disability, sickness, illiteracy, and abuse of all kinds. To flourish, people must be free to achieve their potential—healthy, unimpaired, safe from want and neglect—this is the “prison” to which Isaiah commits his acts of liberation.

Early thought on the theory of evolution hypothesized against charity as an inbred trait in human beings. People, it was thought, only did things that helped them or their direct offspring. All life was selfish; philanthropy and self-sacrifice were left unexplained. Today, it is generally acknowledged that individuals are, in fact, genetically programmed to help others. Since civilization is composed of individuals, progress in the group necessarily aids the survival of the person. Even life-threatening acts of heroism, as in combat, can be understood as benefiting the world in which one’s descendants can live more successfully.

All Masonic Bodies teach philanthropy and compassion, and most have a specific need they attempt to meet. The 19° of the Scottish Rite, however, emphasizes a particular and important aspect of beneficence. It teaches that the true Mason labors for the advancement of all people, especially for the benefit of those who will come after him. Regardless of the nature or scope of our efforts on behalf of others, we share the implicit goal of shaping an improved world for humanity’s children.

Masonic ritual, like the great teachers throughout history, emphasizes the fundamental equality of all persons and the responsibility of each for the welfare of others. No eminence of station should make us forget that people on the lowest spoke of fortune’s wheel may be entitled to our assistance and respect, because, as the installing ritual in Virginia states: “a time will come, and the wisest knows not how soon, when...Death, the grand leveler of human greatness, reduces us all to the same state.”

This recognition of universal mortality creates a connection with others and establishes the Golden Rule as a profound and practicable way of life. We are far more alike than different and should, therefore, see ourselves as each other’s keepers. Both the giver and the receiver are materially altered by the gift. As we attempt to improve the lot of those stricken around us, we ourselves are humanized by the effort.

Please remember The House of The Temple Historic Preservation Foundation, S.J., USA, with your gifts and in your will, 1–800–486–3331.