A Mason is sometimes asked by a friend, a neighbour, or a business associate, "What do the Masons do?" The question may be worded more generally, "What are the Masons?"
In either case, the Brother is challenged by the realization that there is no simple answer which he can rattle off 'from the top of his head', because the questioner is really asking him for a comprehensive explanation about what organized Freemasonry is, what its principles and purposes are, what programs it is engaged in, how it carries them out, and what satisfactions the individual Mason derives from his Masonic membership.
Some of these considerations arouse the fraternal doubt that "you can't tell that," so that the Brother's reply is marked by hesitation or reluctance to explain.
Puzzled by the difficulty of knowing what facets of the vast subject of Freemasonry the questioner is really inquiring about, the Mason 'just doesn't know where to begin', and too often may avoid a simple statement of facts. He isn't sure of what to say.
Or, knowing that his questioner is a 'practical man of affairs' who measures outcomes quantitatively, in materialistic terms, he realizes that Freemasonry's reputation cannot be explained by charts, statistics, or financial statements, because the Fraternity's real worth can be expressed only in spiritual terms, and that is rather difficult to explain to the uninitiated. Masonic terminology, the most comfortable words with which to reply seems inadequate or out of place. Masonic 'secrecy' gets in the way.
Embarrassment is probably the commonest cause of a Brother's difficulty in replying to the question. He is embarrassed because he realizes that he doesn't really know enough about the Fraternity to give a good simple reply. He knows that there is much more Masonic activity going on in other Lodges all over the country and throughout the world, but he has never taken the time to experience some of it or to read about it with real interest. He hasn't given much thought to the subject. He never expected to be asked such a question by a non-Mason outside the Lodge. Even though he has experienced Masonry, he has never tried to express in words just what Freemasonry means to himself.
A well-informed Brother, therefore, will prepare himself for the possibility of being asked such a question. Even though no one ever asks the question, he will have the confidence of knowing what Freemasonry means, especially to himself.
First of all, he will determine to give a Masonic answer, one which asserts the real nature of the Fraternity as a spiritual force, as 'a way of life' which seeks to improve men morally and spiritually, by associating with other idealistic men who want to improve the quality of life around them by means of a brotherhood which emphasizes the Fatherhood of God.
In an age which derides ideals, absolutes, the concepts of law and order, and advocates relativism instead of standards of excellence, which angrily demands rights instead of responsibility, and which preaches a nihilistic doctrine of individualism (doing your own thing), Masons find it difficult to explain the Fraternity's idealism and its charitable and educational purposes. But it must be done. A Mason must give a Masonic answer to the question, "What are the Masons?"
There are really so much that a mason should be proud to proclaim to others, that his principal concern in answering questions is probably the doubt that he can give an adequate Masonic reply.
The esoteric parts of the ritual work, the grips and pass-words of the three degrees, these are really the only areas which should be kept inviolate. Because it is impossible to communicate to the uninitiated the joys and satisfactions of brotherhood experienced in 'the labours of the Lodge', this too becomes inexpressible.
But there is so much that can be told about Freemasonry, about the particular Lodge, about the individual Mason, that the real problem in answering the question, "What do the Masons do?" is to say only enough to satisfy the questioner without boring or distracting him.
He can point out that Freemasonry is an educational organization. By means of the ritualistic ceremonies and other educational programs, Masons learn and teach the truths of morality, justice and the necessity of brotherly love to achieve those universal ideals. Reverence for the Great Architect is inculcated because men are brothers only if they are related to God as the sons of the Creator Father.
He can explain that Masonic meetings, while resembling the meetings of any organized society, have a distinctly Masonic character. They are opened and closed with prayer. They are opened and closed with Masonic ceremonies to remind the members of the principal purposes of the Fraternity, which are to develop brotherly love and respect for truth, not the truths of scientific facts or history, but the truths which guide a man to live happily and harmoniously with his fellow man.
For that reason Masonic meetings do not permit the introduction of discussions about sectarian religious differences or partisan political opinions. A Masonic Lodge, if it is working seriously, teaches its members the principles involved in attaining a universal Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of God.
A Mason is also free to explain that Freemasonry is a charitable organization, which acts to relieve the distress of individuals who are victims of calamity, and that it has created programs and institutions to care for its needy senior citizens, or to provide scholarship aid for worthy and needy young people in education. Masonic Homes and Hospitals, Grand' Lodge Scholarship Programs and Charity Funds are examples of such achievements.
Freemasonry is also, but not primarily, a social organization, which arranges special meetings to which are invited wives, children, neighbours and friends for the purposes of entertainment and sociability. Masons seek the pleasure of associating with other members of the community, hoping thereby to reveal the serious and idealistic nature of the Fraternity's objectives.
There is so much that a Mason can tell about his beloved Fraternity. But the way in which he tells it is more important than what he tells. When a Mason is conscious and proud of the moral and spiritual achievements he has made through Masonry, when he has been inspired to display the beauties of friendship, morality, and brotherly love, when he realizes that his own personal life is the most important evidence he can give to show what a Mason is, he usually finds it very easy to talk about the Fraternity to his non-Masonic friends. When he knows that his Lodge is a spiritual force, when it is learning and teaching its members the universal ideals of the Craft, when it is actively promoting charitable programs and pursuing truth, he will tell what Freemasonry is with conviction and enthusiasm.
But he must know what he is talking about. This article suggests only in general terms what he can talk about. He should be prepared to fill in the details. When he is convinced that he can supply those details, he is ready to answer the questions, "What do the Masons do?" and "What are the Masons?"
When he is asked the question he must then decide on how much or how little to say. A brief but adequate reply is advised, for if the questioner is not satisfied, he will undoubtedly ask for further information. The following answer is only a suggestion.
"Masons are men who have voluntarily asked to join a Lodge. They were accepted because they were good men who believe in God and hold high ethical and moral ideals. They attend meetings, which they call the Lodge, in order to learn and to teach what friendship, morality, and truth really involve, and to practice on a small scale the reality of brotherhood. They also have meetings open to their wives, children, and friends where they promote an understanding of the serious nature of the Fraternity by entertainment and sociability. Practical programs for charity and relief are planned and executed. The special kinship they feel for each other as a brotherhood is their deepest satisfaction."
From the Short Talk Bulletin of the Masonic Service Association of the United States