Some Personal Musings Rt. Wor. Bro. Michael W Walker, Past Grand Secretary, Grand Lodge of Ireland
There are probably, as many reasons for this as there are cases of it happening but, in any case, the fact that it is happening at all, probably indicates that it is time for a close and searching examination of what Freemasonry is, what is happening to it, and what action, if any, needs to be taken to reverse undesirable trends by channelling energies and enthusiasms down acceptable paths, as we approach the year 2000 and beyond.
On his initiation, Brethren are assured that the Candidate is “living in good repute amongst his friends and neighbours”. He is, therefore, or should be, a peaceable and law abiding citizen who gets on well with others. A little later on, the Candidate affirms that he comes “with a preconceived notion of the excellence of the Order, a desire for knowledge and wishing to make himself more extensively useful amongst his fellow men”. Later again, on being charged, he is told that the foundation of Freemasonry is “the practice of every social and moral virtue”. He is exhorted to learn how to discharge his duty to his God, his neighbour and himself, to be an exemplary citizen and that, as an individual, he should practice every domestic as well as public virtue and maintain those truly Masonic characteristics, benevolence and brotherly love.
As he progresses, he is told that he should “not only assent to the Principles of the Craft, but steadily persevere in their practice,” At a later stage, he is told that his “own behaviour should afford the best example for the conduct of others.”
Later still, at the peak of his Craft career, on being installed in the Chair of his Lodge, he consents to a comprehensive list of instructions as to his attitude and behaviour. All in all, the entire underlying principle is that, by entering Freemasonry, and by his acceptance and practice of its’ tenants and precepts, he should become a credit to himself and an example to, and benefactor of, others.
It is expected and hoped that Freemasonry will bring about this state of affairs but that, in his daily life, a Freemason will interact with others as an individual and not in his capacity as a Freemason. Freemasonry is therefore, an intellectual and philosophic exercise, designed and intended to make an individual’s contribution to society, and extension of himself, greater than they might otherwise have been, had he not had the opportunity of developing his capacities and capabilities through membership of the Order.
What Does Freemasonry Provide?
The Lodge teaches many skills often untaught, or not experienced, elsewhere. A Brother must talk in public, think on his feet, make decisions, vote on issues and, finally, chair meetings. These are invaluable assets in all other aspects of life and, for many, this may well be the only opportunity of learning, practising and perfecting these skills and techniques.
In fact, I think that nowadays, much of this list of benefits – the “Masonic Product” – is left to the Candidate to work out for himself, and a good deal of symbolism is lost, unless the Candidate’s mind is keenly attuned to it. Indeed, Freemasonry fulfils many of the psychological needs of the average man. To a much greater extent than in women, I believe, men are gregarious creatures who feel the “pack” or “herd” instinct more strongly. They need to belong to something, like a school or a team, and the Lodge takes on that role, even providing, like a regiment, a distinctive uniform which indicates each individual’s place in the “pecking order” or his present achievement level. Furthermore, the Lodge provides outlets for the indulgence of personal interests which may be denied, both at work, and even in the home, – administration responsibility, dramatic talents, ceremonial, fund raising and caring. Above all, the Lodge provides peace and tranquillity, a haven where the expected is unfailingly found and the increasing turmoil of outside life can, with certainty, be avoided and forgotten for a time. Batteries can be recharged and the Lodge’s calming influence will help to fit one for the fray once more.
Those who have gone through, or are going through, some serious mental trauma such as redundancy, or perhaps depression, brought on by the stress of modern living, will know how true this is, and can testify to the soothing and calming effect of this unique and invaluable supportive atmosphere , as found within the Lodge.
Is Freemasonry a Charity
The hackneyed criticism of the Order that it “looks after its’ own” is totally spurious and without validity, as it is entirely acceptable to provide for a “class” of beneficiaries , viz. The Poor and Indigent Roomkeepers Society, the Presbyterian Orphans Society etc. This does not mean that Masonic Charity is restricted to Masonic beneficiaries and, more and more, it is directed to any deserving cause, providing these do not infringe the terms of the 1938 Declaration. Also, in his everyday life, and in his personal capacity, a Freemason is fully at liberty to support any charity which excites his sympathy.
The Purpose of Freemasonry
My view of the Masonic Order could be said to mirror the view of W.B. Yeats regarding the aristocracy, “protecting its’ denizens and devotees from the political storms of change, almost as if in a primal maternal shelter, and as an ingenious scheme for fostering a kind of spirituality, one of order of the soul, secular, profane and beautiful.
I would like to think that the same could be said of the Lodge, as Yeats once said of Lady Gregory’s home at Coole, in County Clare – certainly a “maternal shelter” for craftsmen of a different métier – that “this house has enriched my soul out of measure, because, here life moves, without restraint, through gracious forms”.
Recently, a number of contributors to the press have all been individually, yet collectively, worried by this impact on the individual, caused by the rate of change in the culture and ethos of society, and by the effects on individuals that this phenomenon brings about. Gerard Casey writes that “in every society, reason operates within the context of myth (myths being fundamental cultural narratives, which provide the unquestionable principles and values which constitute that society and, without which, that society cannot flourish)”. Unfortunately, those who pass for experts in education today have apparently, no awareness of the importance of these things. Perhaps also, under the pressures from those who urge an education based solely on technical and career based subjects, such as potential employers and, also because many children are brought up today by the television set, rather than by their parents, as a society we are losing, or have already lost, our cultural narratives and, like so many others, are beginning to wander aimlessly, without the fuel to change direction, like debris in space on some pointless and endless orbit.
Gerard Casey suggests that the pressures of modern living have brought about moral chaos and collapse in contemporary Ireland and that, indeed, this has reached epidemic proportions throughout the western world. He goes on to speculate on the necessity of finding a rational, ethical basis for behaviour, which is bound to be a lengthy task, with no guarantee of success. Dr. Donal Murray, when Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin, identified “ a hunger, which is not being satisfied. People need to feel they belong, they need to feel that they can be fully committed to something. The prevailing mood in Ireland, and elsewhere, is one of disillusionment and cynicism. We have come to see ourselves as living in a world of institutions and structures – we think of ourselves as belonging, not to a country, but to an economy, we think of our national life and resources in terms of statistics and the machinery of Government, rather than of people and culture”.
Murray goes on to say, “it is increasingly presumed that the ideal citizen possesses no strong religious or moral beliefs, or at least, has the decency not to intrude them into the public arena. Strong moral beliefs are, we are told, divisive; religious belief is, at best, embarrassing. In other words,” he continues, “one is not meant to participate in national life with one’s whole self, with one’s religious beliefs and moral convictions. These are private matters. We are in danger of trying to build a culture which regards as irrelevant the very realities which make people tick. Divisiveness results only when religion and morality are misunderstood. The individual conscience is worthy of respect because it seeks the truth, as every human being is obliged to do.”
Freemasons will hardly fail to notice these references to ethics, morality and truth, the very foundation of Masonic teaching and endeavour. But these cultural jewels-without-price are coming under increasingly powerful destructive forces which are eroding the foundation and base on which they rest. Conor Cruise O’Brien – the distinguished Statesman and commentator says that – “for as far back as we can go in history, human discourse concerning ethics has been effected, in varying degrees, with hypocrisy.” Another commentator states that the term, “business ethics” is fast becoming an oxymoron – that is, a contradiction in terms; and the Bishop of Waterford felt it necessary to denounce publicly the “Cult of Excessive Individualism”.
This excessive individualism led to a false idea of freedom. Such freedom told the individual that no limits could be placed on the choices one could make. One was free to do one’s own thing, to insist on one’s own rights, irrespective of the rights of others. Dr. Lee said the cult of excessive individualism has placed the individual man and woman on a pedestal, at the centre of things; does not allow for community in the true sense; and militates against the realization of the “full life” to which all are called.
Whether we like it or not, or knowing it, are prepared to accept it, there are many subtle and not-so-subtle forces at work daily, all around us which, as they multiply and accelerate, produce a sort of mental dizziness – not always immediately perceptible, but none-the-less insidious – which makes us unsure if our feet are on the straight and level path, and, if they are, is it really the right path?. These are the forces which are filling psychiatrist’s waiting rooms, and their pockets, as more and more people become aware that something is wrong, which is somehow affecting their quality of life, but they are not able to identify the cause – only feel and sense its’ debilitating effects, until help is sought.
What is needed in all this, is some form of mental sheet anchor – a sort of fixed navigational point like the pole star which, when the clouds pass, can be seen and provides the traveller with the means to identify his exact position and thereby, the knowledge to return to the true path.
Freemasonry - a part of, or apart from, Society
If we pursue the aims of the Order, our search should widen, yet focus our vision, while ever making us more deeply aware of, and closer to, the Great Architect of the Universe, heightening our spirituality and deepening our insight into that which we may never hope to fully understand – something akin to the search after the mystic Grail as sought and fought for, by our possible, even probable, operative forbears, the Knights Templar, who followed on, in their own way, from the mythical Knights of the Grail Romances and Arthurian Legend. There is so much more to Freemasonry than the shallow depth of today’s assessment and its’ scant inspection by today’s society, obsessed as it is, with material success for the “successful man”. Success is measured almost solely in money and material terms and the position or belongings that such wealth has made it possible to achieve and acquire. Whether this wealth, position and possessions were legally or morally acquired is beside the point – what matters is that these are the trappings of “success”, irrespective of whether others were hurt, ruined or otherwise damaged in their garnering.
The Masonic Order is not just another organization like Rotary, Round Table, Chamber of Commerce or any other, all designed to meet differing particular needs and carry out distinctive functions. If Freemasonry were any, or all, of these, then they would not have come into being. We are what we are, and any attempt to assume the mantle of others detracts from both. Probably, there are many who joined Freemasonry thinking it was something else or, who having joined it, would seek to fashion it into what they want, as being easier than trying to identify the institution they need and seek, and which they thought they were joining when they became Freemasons. This is not a cure for anyone’s ills.
It is true to say, however, that worldwide, within the Masonic Order today, numbers are falling. Reasons for this reduction in numbers are not hard to find and are based largely on the superficiality of today’s society, the many pressures on individuals and the multiplicity of opportunities in the social scene, for disposing of leisure time.
It has been identified by American Research into this problem, that there is a very strong inverse relationship between the amount of disposable leisure time that any particular pursuit requires and its’ popularity with individuals. Nowadays, people have a very limited amount of free time due, often, to very heavy demands by their profession or occupation, and this leisure time must be rationed out sparingly, to avoid competition with family and other priority interests, Any pastime, which makes substantial demands on time available, or which is not perceived to give a fair return – however subjectively that may be measured – will not be favoured and, in Masonic terms, this will be evidenced by reduced attendance, no matter how pleased, proud or honoured a Brother may feel in being a member of the Order. WE all know the annual attendees at the Installation Dinner – Brethren who come, bring guests and enjoy themselves hugely – who are not then seen for another twelve months. They are acknowledging their “belonging” to the organization, without it providing, or seeming able to provide, the stimulation necessary to encourage regular attendance.
My Grandfathers, apart from their Club and their Lodge, probably had few enough outlets for leisure time and the monthly meetings were looked forward to, perhaps, as opportunities. Nowadays, there are a host of activities open to all strata of society which, not so many years ago, would not have been available, either socially or financially. Thus the monthly meeting or meetings, in many cases, instead of being opportunities are competing with other activities whose “return” may be perceived more favourably.
In marketing terms, we must perceive Freemasonry as a product. This is what we are “selling”, or otherwise providing, for uptake by members and potential members. WE must either improve the product or make the packaging more attractive.
Freemasonry is a fairly stable product in itself – very little can be done to alter the product without changing it entirely, in both essence and appearance. Its’ principles and Precepts have stood the test of time and are as valid today, as ever. We cannot change the product and remain in the same business and, we must be true ourselves in this. If we want to get into a new line of business it must be accepted and recognized that this is exactly what we are doing; and will it not be long, perhaps, before somebody decides that the new product is not quite right, therefore needing further adjustment to meet the current demands of society. This, I suggest, is not an option that is open to us. What we have, and what we stand for, will always be right, even if its’ acceptance rises or falls on the scales of time.
What we can do is upgrade the packaging, and make it look more attractive to potential customers, while also making it more palatable to current consumers. In the former sense, we can and already do, actively adopt a higher profile and gently, but firmly, “let our light shine before men”. The candle in the window is the invitation symbol understood by all; and some will accept and knock on the door. I am entirely against the “go out into the highways and bye-ways and compel them to come in” attitude. This is the means that those who would appoint a Public Relations Consultant would seek to adopt. “Hard Sell” is not for Freemasonry, however you might try to dress it up. Freemasonry is there to be adopted and savoured by those with minds attuned to, or even seeking, its’ attainment and what it provides. Freemasonry is not for everyone, but within all populations and, at all times, there will be those to whom it will appeal. By its’ packaging and presentation these customers may be identified and maximized, but they cannot be created. “I am that I am,” and no amount of manipulation or massaging will turn into silk, a purse made from a sow’s ear.
Appropriate opportunities must be taken to dispel the old myths and turn the spotlight onto the benefits of Freemasonry. In this we can all play a part, for we are all – as a North American Grand Master put it, “someone else’s perception of Freemasonry.” Let us identify the “positives” about the Order, then talk openly about them and try to promote them. This will necessitate across-the-board activities, starting in the home and family, expanding through one’s circle of friends and acquaintances, into the work place and leisure resorts – leaving it up to Grand Lodge, of course, to deal with the media, so that a constant and coherent message comes across. Otherwise, there will be as many viewpoints as there are members of the Order, and we should not be surprised if the media and public continue to be confused as to what we are, and what we aspire to be.
In order to try to rejuvenate interest in Lodge attendance and to encourage those, who so often, fail to become active members again, a definite programme of action must be undertaken. Basically this has only one aim – to make Lodge meetings attractive, as something to be enjoyed, and not something to be endured.
One may look at this from many angles, but it must be realized that, in the long run, it is something which every individual Lodge has to solve for itself. In time immemorial days, before Grand Lodge Structures were developed, every Lodge was an independent, autonomous Body. As speculative masonry took over from operative masonry, and membership came mainly from persons not actively involved in the construction business, a code of ethics and conduct had to be instituted. Grand Lodge is an administrative and regulatory body, with a hierarchical structure down through Provincial Grand Lodges to the basic Craft Lodges. However, within the framework of Grand Lodge Laws and Constitutions, extended perhaps, to meet Provincial requirements, and culminating in the individual By-Laws of every subordinate Lodge, each Lodge is still an independent, autonomous Body, responsible for its’ own activities, functions and ultimately, its’ own survival. Nowadays, brought up on the ubiquitous Welfare System, everyone, everywhere, expects somebody else to spoon-feed him and shoulder all responsibility.
Grand Lodge is not an Entertainments Committee and, although it may make suggestions or give rulings, in the end, the buck stops on every Worshipful Master’s pedestal. He must ensure that the ritual is well executed, that the business is conducted efficiently and effectively, that the business content is of interest and not merely routine; but, above all, that Brethren – usually the same Brethren – do not talk too much. Parkinson’s Law is never seen in such intense clarity as at a Lodge meeting and, in particular, at a Festive Board on Installation Night. Poor, over extended speeches are a sure recipe for “I’m not going there again” – such a pity, when the effect could and should be, “Do we have to wait a whole year for the next one?”
As indicated earlier, I believe that the product cannot be changed, so we must improve the packaging. The packaging elements have been identified in our discussion document “Programme for Change – The Way Forward” as, our public image, membership, charity, policy, administrative development and communication. It is up to us all, from bottom to top, preferably in that order and direction, to decide on the right “mix” in order to achieve our purpose of creating a Masonic revival for the benefit of our own and future generations. Furthermore, we hope that our public perception may become, in the words of a newspaper advertisement seeking a firm of solicitors to represent a Baha’i Group, that of a Body of “healthy, pure hearted souls, manifesting qualities of highest integrity, honesty and truthfulness, with an established way of life, demonstrating detachment from material goods, and love of God through service to humanity.” The Solicitors that is, not the Baha’i group!
We must try to demonstrate to the world at large, hopefully therefore, making our Order more attractive to all would-be members, that the words of the Pro Grand Master of England, M.W. Bro. the RT. Hon. Lord Farnham – himself an Irish Mason and a Past Senior Grand Warden of Ireland, as recorded in their proceedings, are true: “Freemasonry aims to develop the individual as a good citizen and, as a man with a good moral foundation. Other benefits to society may follow, but they come from individuals acting in their personal capacities and not as Freemasons”.
“It is not easy, in the modern world, to convince people that, whilst Freemasonry, as a Body, is not for anything – and is certainly not a pressure group, its’ influence on the personal standards of its’ individual members must be good for society in general and should be welcomed”.
Into the Next Millennium
The Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge Alpina of Switzerland, in his address to the meeting of the Grand Secretaries of Europe in 1994 stated, “ It is essential to avoid any kind of proselytism – the main goal is not to seek new members but to improve other’s perception of our Order” – hopefully from that, candidates will flow.
We must try to correct the false perception of the Order by the media, in particular, and also the Church, for they are the agencies who can, and do, direct public opinion – both being highly suspicious and antagonistic.
The Church finds it impossible to accept that we are not a competitor but that, in fact, we are supportive of religion and indeed, encourage each Brother to increase his interest in his own beliefs through development of his intellect and spirituality. We have no theology, do not have sacraments, do not engage in worship as Freemasons in our Lodges, and cannot offer or provide the means of salvation through good works or in any other way. We know all this, but how do we get it across to someone who does not want to know, because it suits is book or publication to think or believe otherwise? We must remember that the various Churches are undergoing an equal or even greater fall-off in membership than we are, in percentage terms. This is partly their own fault and partly due to the fact that, today, like us, formalized and structured religion is simply unfashionable. In their own way, they are trying to respond by, for instance, introducing Mass in the vernacular in the Roman Catholic Church, and reducing to common-place prose the beautiful and uplifting language of the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Bible of the Anglican Communion. Neither of these changes has worked, because they have not addressed the problems, but simply changed the trappings, like someone putting on cheap casual clothes to go to Church, instead of wearing a suit.
In panic, the Churches finally went over the top with charismatic evangelism in the High Church and fundamentalism in the Low Church denominations. A superb letter to the Irish Times of 22nd June, 1995, by Ms. Gwen Jermyn, a Methodist lady living in County Cork in Southern Ireland, refers to the advent of extreme fundamentalist teaching and preaching, which has hi-jacked the word “evangelical”. She goes on to say “This fundamentalist emphasis on doctrinaire in the extreme, denies genuine spiritual exploration, and substitutes a narrow and negative insistence on its’ own fundamentalist interpretation. It is limited, divisive, offensive and arrogant, taking advantage of emotions and fears in a manner far removed from the Gospel’s clear teaching.”
The archetype of this over-reaction was “The Nine O’Clock Service” in Sheffield which was lauded to the sky by many, from the Archbishop of Canterbury down to trendy local vicars. The inevitable result became the greatest embarrassment the Church has experienced in recent times; when, after the usual mass-hysteria and mass-hypnosis induced by the usual mass manipulation techniques on the super-incredulous, the white knight of the New Age — the Rev. Christopher Brain — was first suspended from working as a priest and later resigned from the ministry after an orgy of debauchery, amidst a cacophony of vilification from those who had formerly been his keenest disciples; and the ritual washing of hands by the Church Authorities.
Let us not be complacent in this however, but let us learn from it, for the Masonic Order has had its own taste of a “Rave Service”. In March 1995 a so-called World Congress was held in Mexico, sponsored by one of the small State Grand Lodges of Mexico, which is still considered irregular by many — the Gran Logia Valle de Mexico. At this, if one can believe reports, all sorts of irregular bodies took part and amazingly un- masonic things were said and done, ending up with the production of a charter, called the Carta de Anahuac, signed by representatives of all claimed 37 participating Grand Lodges. The follow-up was to take place in Portugal in 1996; and in Italy in 1997, sponsored by, as far as we are concerned, the irregular Grand Orient of Italy. Their Grand Master put in print his agenda for 1997 as follows:- “We believe that our study must be along the following lines: remedies for the overpopulation of the world, the programming of food and energy resources, the fight against planet and space pollution, cooperation between rich and poor countries to eliminate conflicts as well as economic and technological differences, control over scientific discoveries addressed towards the good and progress of humanity in the respect for the dignity and freedom of the individual and peoples, and to safeguard the rights and duties of man”.
This is not Freemasonry, these are not subjects that should ever be discussed in a masonic environment and those that do so are irregular freemasons. This was firmly drawn to their attention.
Here is a clear case of Freemasonry going over the top and casting about frantically for a bandwagon to jump onto. Choosing the wrong bandwagon is worse than choosing none and is the sure way of bringing the Order into disrepute. If you have nothing constructive to do, then do nothing. As our former Grand Registrar, a highly respected lawyer, says of such situations: “if you are in a hole, stop digging”.
The media too cannot tolerate our privacy, which they construe as secrecy, with some hidden agenda of subversion or any other imagined malfeasance which is their particular flavour of the month. But we are not the only organization which has fallen foul of the press for our privacy. Opus Dei, a right-wing group within the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland has fallen foul of the media, and others, in terms with which we are very familiar, viz:- “We have heard some of our highest public officials intimate that members of Opus Dei ought to be excluded from high office. No reasons were given, extraordinary when you consider that the matter concerned the imposition of a disability on citizens on the grounds of their religious profession, but we can imagine it involved the supposition that Opus Dei has some kind of corporate agenda. Why for example was it stated as fact that Opus Dei is secretive? What does the writer know that rebuts Opus Dei’s repeated denial? People do not introduce themselves as members of one diocese or another. People readily understand that this is because it is private, not secret, no more than members of Opus Dei do not go about introducing themselves as such. Being a member of Opus Dei, or any other organization, is not a public credential. Furthermore, each member’s freedom to think and act as they like, in public matters, would be badly compromised by other members acting as if they represented the whole body”.
What I am trying to emphasise is that, as we move into the next millennium we must be steadfast in our adherence to the Aims and Principles, and not attempt to obtain public acceptance through promoting or pursuing non-masonic activities which can only, in the long term, prove our undoing. We must be patient and bide our time for we will come again. I have heard it said that the pace of life and its stresses will get even more frenetic than at present and that while we may be able to cope with this intellectually, it is questionable if many can cope with it emotionally. In these circumstances with the Internet bombarding us with a quatermass-like availability of ethical and unethical information in the privacy of our own homes, I believe that Bro. Michael Yaxley, President of the Board of General Purposes of the Grand Lodge of Tasmania, is quite correct when he writes “Society does have a need for a body such as Freemasonry. I believe that this need will increase rather than decrease. In the next century the work place will not offer fellowship and camaraderie sufficient to satisfy the social instincts that people have. Many people will work at home, linked to the office by computer and telephone. Others will work in an office with complex but nevertheless inanimate equipment. The irony of the Age of Communication is that people spend, and will spend, more time by themselves”.
We must be careful to hasten slowly — festina lente — when we are assailed on all sides by exhortations to bring the Craft into the twenty-first century, or to move out of our time-warp, as a Bro. Robert H. Abel of New Zealand puts it. He refers to another brother being fearful for the dignity of the Craft, and says that so he should be, for we merely cheapen our Institution by touting it in public. He wants to see the Craft respected for the efforts of its brethren in the society in which they happen to live. We are all someone else’s perception of Freemasonry.
He believes that man’s spirituality tends to wax and wane in long term cycles; we would do well to ensure that our Craft endures unchanged for future, and perhaps less frivolous, generations to appreciate and enjoy.
Perhaps it may be said that Freemasonry is currently enjoying an Indian Summer before the harsh realities of Winter arrive. As the poet Humbert Wolfe wrote:
Listen, the wind is rising
And the air is wild with leaves,
We have had our Summer evenings,
Now for October eves!
This ends on a slightly threatening or admonitory tone which we may do well to note and prepare for a sort of symbolic battening down of the hatches in order to ride out the approaching storm. But perhaps it may be more of a belt-tightening exercise as we ready the ship for the tide of mens’ spirituality to turn and carry our Craft calmly and sedately once more into deep and safe sailing waters. As the American writer, Henry Adams saw it, “The Indian Summer of life should be a little sunny and a little sad, and infinite in wealth and depth of tone — just like the season.”
I think that pretty closely describes Freemasonry today: a little sunny and infinite in wealth and depth of tone. We all can empathise with that. A little sad too with memories of past greatness; and quieter more settled times when bogeymen were not found everywhere and Freemasonry was a recognised, accepted and fashionable part of society. Will our time come again? I think it will. Not perhaps an exact replica of the past, for we cannot turn back the clock, but a slimmer, trimmer version with new vigour and enthusiasm, ready to meet the new millennium.
But remember, brethren, as we enter and endure “the winter of our discontent” we must maintain our standards and our dignity. There can be no compromise with quality in any facet of our institution. One of Ireland’s greatest actors and one of its best-known characters, Michael Mac Liammoir, was once accused by a critic of being “square”. “Yes” said Mac Liammoir, “perhaps you are right, but so much better to be square than shapeless”. How appropriate for Freemasonry at this time. Let us hold firm to the symbolism of the square and the compasses and let them be the means of restoring “Ordo ab Chao” — order out of mental and moral chaos — as we strive to readjust emotionally to the crushing pressures and stress of modern life.
Now brethren, let me close on one final exhortation taken from the beautiful language of our ritual: “See that you conduct yourselves, out of lodge as in lodge, good men and masons”; and remember those immortal words of Polonius giving advice to his son Laertes as he departs from Denmark, on his return to France, in Shakespeare’s greatest play, Hamlet: “This above all, to thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man”. Almost the whole masonic ethos can be found in those few words — so easy to remember, so difficult to put into practice.