JOSEPH VICTOR HAFFNER
Past Deputy Grand Master, UGL of NSW and the ACT
Honorary Deputy Grand Master, National Grand Lodge of Romania
Grand Representative of NGLR in UGL of NSW and the ACT
Grand Librarian of the UGL of NSW and the ACT
I suppose that you are all expecting that my answer to this question will be a clear “YES” and then I will continue to convince you, with eloquence, and with innumerable convincing points, about why you should think the same way that I do.
But this is not my intention. I will not try in any way to hide from you the fact that in the course of more than 40 years, throughout my Masonic career, I asked myself often the same question and that I have sought an answer in the depths of my mind and my soul.
For all this, I do not believe it is of any use to describe to you in detail the variations on which I have speculated, of which I let myself become convinced, then I contradicted myself, all of this only to end up without any results in the place where I had started. The question is essentially a subjective one, connected to character and to circumstances, to the practical experiences of each and every Freemason. Each one of us has his own criteria by which to judge what he likes or what he dislikes, what he considers to be a satisfying mission or a simple waste of time.
My remarks will, therefore, be aimed instead to encouraging you to think for yourselves about this question and to judge from the perspective that is your own.
The fact that the ultimate purpose of each man is to find contentedness, happiness, is an axiom. Man is fundamentally selfish. Where and how he will seek happiness and whether he will find it is the business of each and every man.
It is said: “one man’s meat is another man’s poison.”
It is, therefore, logical to presuppose that when we have decided to join the Order and we have been initiated, we all have legitimate expectations that we would find “something” that would contribute to our happiness…
And then, what happened?
For some of us, our hopes and expectations have not been fulfilled; others are yet waiting for the miracle to come… and others have been disillusioned and it is expected that these ones will retire after a while.
But there is also another possibility, one which should not be ignored, because it is possible that it should bring the much expected solution for those who have not yet found the fulfillment of their hopes, but which have not given up their hopes.
What I am talking about is a gradual and subtle change in the nature of the hopes and therefore in their fulfillment.
Our Order claims that, under the influence of our system of morality, the candidate, by becoming a Freemason, is undergoing a change of his perspectives. This is, in fact, the very purpose of the initiation. The candidate is asked to cast off any prejudice or preconceived idea, and to enter our Order with a completely open mind.
In theory, initiation is assimilated to a spiritual rebirth.
It is NOT to be expected, of course, for the change to be immediate.
There is nothing magical in the Ceremony of Initiation which, in reality, certify the fitfulness of the candidate and the fact that he has been found sufficiently worthy in order to have the way opened to him by which he will find the knowledge and the wisdom which will guide him toward the truth.
Permit me to mention here that Freemasonry is not didactic in the sense that it does not offer “formulae” which answer any need. The new Mason, apprentice, does not receive formulated lessons. The Tools of The Degrees are explained, but he has to learn to utilize them himself, and The Symbols of The Order have to be interpreted by each for himself, in the light available to each, and by the power of thinking of each. There are NO unique or orthodox interpretations.
As a consequence, we have no sanctions against neophytes who do not have the desire or the aptitudes necessary for learning.
The Doctrines and The Principles of Freemasonry have resisted the erosion of time and overpass the asperities of the events of the surrounding world. They are continuing to evolve unhampered and impose themselves as powers of the good. Their only weakness is that they are not always applied in a practical way and that many times they are abandoned in favor of pretentious speeches.
Many of us display in a superficial way the benefits and the satisfactions brought by our old Honorable Order and they are lost in the empty personal laudations instead of trying with all their powers to maintain themselves on the straight line that leads to the brotherly union of all people of all races and all faiths, as Brothers, children of the same Father.
Speaking at a Masonic work in France, I compared our Order to a Good wine, by quality, or any other good thing in life, but it is not only for a moment’s tasting, but to profit by Freemasonry each day of his life. An atmosphere in which each of us is growing even as our knowledge and understanding grow and develop, even as you learn more and more…
It is often said that the distinctive sin of the English is HYPOCRISY. Disraeli, that great statesman of England, once said about a certain Conservative Secretary:
“Organized hypocrisy. So great is the difference between the Ideas in the head and the sensation in the tail.”
The value of each institution depends in a clear way on the values of people who participate in it, and who are a part of it and therefore it is just as clear that the “sensation in the tail” is that which will determine whether the individual Mason will find his belonging to the Order as being valuable or not.
I propose to examine these “sensations” felt upon initiation, beginning with those of a poor candidate in complete darkness.
When he was thinking about asking for his admission into Freemasonry, his ideas were pretty vague. Everything he knew was that this was about a pretty secret Society which imposes severe punishments on traitors, but which at the same time offered a tight connection between the members who obligated themselves to help one another in whatever circumstance.
When he asked those who proposed him to be a member, to find out more details, he was told to have complete faith, because they were forbidden from recounting details about what happens in the Lodges. On the other hand, the Candidate has to ensure those who support his request to enter the Order that he believes in God (without defining what is the meaning of the term God), that he is not urged by anyone and by no interest to request his admission, that he has a good opinion of and admiration for Freemasonry, a thirst to deepen and to develop his knowledge and, finally, an unmoving desire to help his brethren and to promote the welfare of all in general.
Nevertheless, he feels that to some extent this is an unilateral arrangement, somewhat different from any other arrangement proposed by any other organization or club. There, he would have had the complete list of the offered benefits, and moreover, he would have been invited to visit the place and the especially decorated halls in order to satisfy his expectations, before he is asked for his commitment, for his attachment…
He cannot know as yet, before the Initiation, that thereare reasons of high importance that prevent Freemasonry from completely revealing itself, from making promises of any kind, to look for new subscriptions or to buy publicity in the newspapers.
Freemasonry or what it can offer are and remain impalpable. Their value becomes apparent through experience. Freemasonry is like caviar – an acquired taste…
With all these things, the Candidate, intrigued by the mysteries that envelop the Masonic Order, he makes his final accounting and decides that the disadvantage of buying a “cat in a bag” is overcome by the advantage of becoming the member of a brotherhood in which he will certainly find a crowd of men in the entire world, who have the same interests as his, who will extend a friendly hand and who knows… maybe even a saving hand. They will be able to be considered friends, even brothers, and all of this against an annual subscription that is not even all that much… when you think about it…
It seems to be a good idea.
Clearly, the Brethren supporting his candidacy have explained to him that Fremasonry is not an “one-way road”, and he will be able to benefit broadly only if he is also ready contribute to Freemasonry with something. He thinks to himself and convinces himself that, after all, nothing more can be asked of him than he can give and therefore he remains convinced that Freemasonry is a viable ideal.
After a more or less long waiting, and after he has gone through a few meetings and interviews, which have only sharpened his curiosity and his desire to overcome, the big day of the Initiation has come.
Pushed to the apex of expectation and nervousness, he has a moment of bewilderment. The Initiation Ceremony left him a little unclear and troubled. In reality, it did not answer his expectations at all…
The glorious moment of “EUREKA” were lacking. Unfortunately, it was missing!
One thing was certain: he had made some Oaths, he had taken certain solemn obligations. He was reminded of a terrible punishment that was applied in antiquity, but everything was rather confused. In reality, he is not convinced that he understands with any certainty that he knows in what the Secrets of which there had been so much talk consisted.
He is beginning to recover after the first shock, in time to not look squared at the Banquet that follows the initiation.
Here, he notices that everyone present considers him and treats him with great respect and a kind of expression of a new Brotherly love… Everyone fetes him, he is seated at a place of honor, even at the table of the Worshipful Master of the Lodge.
He listens with wonderment to a brother who applaud him and speaks about his own initiation. Then comes the stressful moment when he is called to reply the toast raised in his honor.
His effort, not too successful, to reply publicly, is warmly applauded. In the friendly atmosphere and in the wave of congratulations he has received, after two glasses of wine, he has the feeling that, finally, has overcome, has passed over the difficulties and that the moments of tension have passed. All that remains to be done is to participate with pleasure at the party, amid this group of “brethren” who, definitely, seems to be fun.
Our new Freemason, in the first degree, of Apprentice, gets home that night very happy.
Then the routine of the Masonic works and ceremonies begins.
Look, he finds the fact that he is asked to listen without talking a bit absurd. And that is all.
Often, he is asked to leave the Lodge for a short while. Then comes the moment when he has the privilege to see another pass through the same “difficult test” through which had passed and thus begins to understand in a pretty vague way – it is true – what Masonry means.
He begins to feel that he would wish to do something himself, to participate in the works and he is happy when is told – finally – just as to a schoolboy, to learn a series of ritual questions and adequate answers (as Caragiale said: NETESITAKE GHE LOJICA LUCRULUI [necessity is the logic of thing]…). He does it with dedication, because he is told that this thing is necessary for his promotion to a superior degree in the hierarchy, and of course he has a natural ambition to put on an apron the same as everyone else in the Lodge, one more decorative than his white apron.
In time, probably in the following months or maybe after a year, he will finally obtain the desired Sublime degree of Master Mason.
In theory, the young Mason is from that moment on an accomplished element and he should by now know fully what is Freemasonry.
He learned a part of the ritual by heart or at least read attentively the Masonic ceremony and in principle has acquired the dictates of truth, of honor, and of virtue of Our Order and has understood the obligation he has before God, before his family, before his country, before his neighbor and before himself. He must, at that moment, be penetrated by the divine principles… which govern the Universe in general and our small Planet especially, and he should be more tolerant and more understanding of his fellow human beings. Although he is not certain that he has managed to understand the profound meaning of our symbols, he is nevertheless convinced that he knows everything that needs to be known.
Nevertheless, probably, he had not yet realized that the great secret of Freemasonry is that there are no secrets in the simple sense of the notion and is only a discretion in which we envelop our works and our mode of recognition among Brethren. Are not there, after all, in each family certain characteristics or details which are not revealed to the neighbors or to other members of the same family?
Anyway, he is on the right path or, it is better said, he would be on the perfect path if his more experienced Brethren would fulfill their mission.
Can they, with a clean conscience, declare that have displayed the high poise and dignity which the practice of Freemasonry requires? They have accomplished their responsibility to inspire the young Mason? Or have they easily passed through the texts of the Masonic ceremonies without going into the depths and without thinking about the future of the Order?
This is the moment in his career in which the young Master Mason begins to build and to determine his future.
He has chosen the path of perseverance in the pursuit of truth, well, he is beginning to wonder if “it is worth exhausting yourself so much for so little …”
When we look around us and we notice how many are absent from the Lodge, I propose that instead of asking ourselves: “What prevents them from coming to the Work?” to ask ourselves the just question: “Have we really done enough for them to desire to come to the works?”
On this theme as well, it may be said: There is a possibility that their absence is owed to the fact that we did not ask for their participation in the common work and that we did not insist that they join in our efforts.
It is perhaps because we have not insisted enough that they should as well make their opinions about a paper delivered, or about a subject, to participate in discussions and maybe, more importantly, to deliver themselves papers on subjects that are closer to them, better known to them, or more clear. That they should hear the opinion of their brethren on the subjects they have chosen and that, by the lively exchange of ideas, to be able to develop their own knowledge, by adoption of ideas of others. Only in this way can brethren grow as Masons, developing their own meaning of morality.
And so… I propose that you think, Brethren, that the necessary time to develop a subject for an article is not a waste of time. Thinking, planning, research on the subject, even frustration… and the increasing consciousness of what is hidden under the surface is what gives a meaning to the Freemasonry of our times.