Christopher A. Harris, MPS FGCR
Liberty Lodge #31 AF &A M (Liberty, Missouri)
Grand Lodge AF & AM of Missouri
We hear the word "Charity" throughout our entire Masonic experience. Everywhere from our introduction as Entered Apprentices to our stated communications when talking about brothers, their families, and those in our localities that need assistance. How many of us truly understand the impact this simple word means? The Hebrew's in talking about this used the phrase Aheb Karubah which translated means "Love of our Neighbor." Another important Hebrew phrase is Aheb Aloh which translated means "Love of God." They are symbolic of the pillars of true morality and virtuous excellence, and refer to the sentence uttered by the young man's question on what he should do to be saved, "Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind and with all thy strength, and love thy neighbor as thyself. This do and thou shalt live." Another Hebrew word is Hanan which means Compassion. Hanan and its cognate draw attention to the response of a person who is able to help another person who stands in need. Again there is the implicit assumption that the one who helps is moved by his feelings and that the one who is helped has no right to expect aid. In 1 Corinthians 13, St. Paul uses the Greek word "Agape" to show us his meaning of Charity. The definition of "Agape" love is very broad. Some of the definitions of "Agape" love are:
Love, Charity, Charitably, feasts of Charity, Brotherly Love, Affection, Good Will, Benevolence.
By having Charity, or Love, as some translators put it, one should have the same high esteem that the Creator has for His human children and the high regard which they, in turn should have for Him and other people. We hold the Holy Scriptures in highest esteem as it is certainly the most remarkable book of love in the world. "Agape" love also expresses the essential nature of the Creator. It can be known only from the actions it prompts. That love is like the oil to the wheels of obedience. It enables us to run the way we are meant to be as Children of God and in keeping with his Holy Word. Without such love we are nothing. Such spirit inspired love never fails but always flourishes. In a great example of "Agape" love take what St. Paul said in his letter to the Church at Corinth.
"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possession's to the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned but do not have love, it profits me nothing."
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
"But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love."
1 Corinthians 13:13
In reading these passages, when you see the word LOVE it has been translated from the word AGAPE. In some translations of Scripture, such as the King James Version, the word used is CHARITY, which can also be translated as BENEVOLENCE.
In going through our rituals and rituals from two other jurisdictions, you can see how important Charity and Benevolence plays into being a Freemason and a member of the Human family.
(The Grand Lodge AF & AM of the State of Missouri)
"... Should you in your future life meet with a member of the human family in a destitute condition, it will be your duty to contribute to his relief as his necessities may require and your ability will permit."
"The form of a Lodge is an oblong square, from East to West, between North and South, from center to the circumference, and from earth to heaven. It is said to be of such vast dimensions to denote the universality of Freemasonry, and that a Freemason's Charity should know no bounds."
(New York — Exposure)
"Let this ever have, my Brother, a lasting effect on your mind and conscience; and remember, should you ever see a friend, but more especially a brother, in a like destitute condition, you will contribute as liberally to his support and relief as his necessities seem to demand and your ability will permit, without any material injury to yourself or family."
"Q — What is the form and covering of a Lodge?"
"A — An oblong square, extending from East to West, between North and South, from the earth to the heavens and from the surface to the centre."
"Q — Why of such vast dimensions?"
"A — To signify the universality of Masonry, and that a Mason's charity should be equally extensive."
D. M. GOUDIELOCK RITUAL
(The Grand Lodge of Scotland, AF & AM)
"...I shall immediately proceed to put your principles in some measure to test, by calling on you to exercise that virtue which may justly be denominated the distinguishing characteristic of a Freemason's heart — I mean Charity.... Suffice it to say that it has the approbation of heaven and earth, and, like its sister Mercy, it blesseth him who gives as well as him who receives.... Believe me, this trial was not made to sport with your feelings. But it was done for three special reasons — first, to put your principles to the test; secondly, to evidence to the Brethren that you had neither material and metallic substance about you, ... and thirdly as a warning to your own heart, that should you at any future time meet a poor worthy, distressed Brother who may claim your assistance, you will think of the moment you were admitted into Masonry, poor and penniless, and cheerfully embrace the opportunity of practicing towards him that virtue you now profess to admire."
"Be especially careful to maintain in their fullest splendour those truly Masonic virtues which have been so amply illustrated, namely, Benevolence and Charity."
In the Encyclopedia of Freemasonry by Albert Mackey, Charity is defined as the following.
CHARITY — We must not fall into the too common error that Charity is only that sentiment of commiseration that leads us to assist the poor with pecuniary donations. Its Masonic, as well as Christian application is more noble and more extensive. The word used by St. Paul, Agape, means "love." A word donating that kindly state of mind which renders a person full of good will and affectionate regard toward others... Guided by this sentiment Masons will "suffer long and be kind." He will be slow to anger and easy to forgive. He will stay his falling brother by gentle admonition and warn him with kindness of approaching danger. He will not open his ear to his slanders and will close his lips against all reproach. His faults and his follies will be locked in his breast, and the prayer for mercy will ascend to Jehovah for his brother's sins. Nor will these sentiments of benevolence be confined to those who are bound to him by ties of kindred or wordly friendships alone; but, extending them throughout the globe, he will love and cherish all who sit beneath the broad canopy of our universal Lodge. For it is the boast of our institution, that a Mason destitute or worthy, may find in every clime a brother, and in every land a home."
Recently a brother was ill and unable to work for several weeks. This left him and his family in hard times as he was not paid during his sickness. From time to time he would get cards of encouragement; from the church members, his friends and family and also Lodge brothers from every part of his jurisdiction. Some of these Masons he knew and others he did not. Consider an excerpt from one of the letters.
"Dear Brother, Although the amount is small in number, I hope that this gift to you will help you and your family in your time of need. Please do not be too proud to accept it, it is my gift to you. I would expect nothing less from my Brothers should I be found in distress... Please let us know if you need anything for you or your family."
This brought tears to the brother as he knew down deep that this was the true practice of what Freemasonry is about. Another story on Charity comes from the Civil War. This is taken from "Masonic Stories" by Edward Ellis on an account of a battle that took place near a tavern, where there was no harbor and far from the cold.
"The Army of the Potomac, under Grant, assailed the Confederate line on June 1st to 4th at Cold Harbor. The Union Army suffered the most bloody repulse of the war. For twenty minutes the losses in killed and wounded were at the rate of 500 a minute. The Union was fought to a standstill. An order to advance again was disobeyed.
One of the most gallant of the Confederate leaders, who was barely 27 years of age, was General Robert F. Hoke. He commanded a division at Cold Harbor, and had received his commission as Major-General less than six weeks previous. Directly in front of his lines lay scores of Union dead and wounded. Loss of blood always causes a horrible thirst, and the cries of the suffers were more than the Confederates could bear. Scores ran from the ranks, and kneeling among the poor fellows shared the water in their canteens with them. They had been thus engaged only a few minutes when the Federal's opened fire on them not understanding the meaning of the word Charity. The bullets whistled so hotly about them they had to hurry back. General Hoke, was so indignant that he issued an order forbidding his men going out of his lines.
In the lull that followed, he lay down at the foot of a tree to rest, for the day was insufferable hot, and he like his men were exhausted. While lying thus, two of his men approached, and saluting said: "General, a wounded Yankee is lying out in front and he wanted to know whether there are any Masons among us. We told him there were, whereupon he gave the sign of distress and begged us to go and bring him into our lines. We replied that we had been fired upon while helping his companions and because of that you had issued strict orders against our passing outside."
General Hoke roused up and looked keenly at the two men. "Are you Masons?" he asked. They answered they were. "Do you know that it is almost certain death for you to try to give help to that poor fellow?"
"We do; but he has made the Masonic appeal to us, and we only await your permission to try and bring him in," the soldiers said.
"Then go in God's name. I do not stand in the way of such courage as that." Replied the General.
As eagerly as if rushing to meet a returning brother, the brave men ran toward the Federal who lay helpless on the earth. They had hardly started when the enemy, still failing to understand the meaning of the act, opened fire on them. They did not falter or show hesitation. Everyone expected to see one or both fall dead at every step, but they reached the sufferer, coolly held a can to his lips and raised his limp body between them, walked deliberately back with their burden. Neither received a scratch."
I hope that we as Masons can take note of our brothers in these examples and be not afraid to practice in and out of this Lodge every moral virtue taught within it, not only to Masonic brothers in fraternal obligation but to all persons, regardless of their station in life. We should also practice this with joy and not lawful duty. Giving charity is something we do with a smile on our face and an outstretched hand waiting to lift up the distressed person.
In contrast, Jesus Christ said.
"...for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink; I was a stranger and you did not invite Me in; naked and you did not clothe Me; sick and in prison and you did not visit Me; Then they themselves also will answer, saying, "Lord when did we see You hungry or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison and did not take care of You." Then He will answer them, saying, "Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me."
I hope that not one of us will ever have to hear that chastisement. How awful of us to have ignored any person in need.