President’s Message, May 2021

“Time is a great mystery, the general relation in which all things perceptible stand to each other in regard to their origin, continuance, and dissolution. It is a movable image of eternity, or the interval of the world’s motion, illimitable, yet silently ever rolling and rushing on…”

Knight of Time (29°) ritual
Egyptian Masonic Rite of Memphis

If you love Masonic ritual, especially for its literary characteristics, that Knight of Time Degree from long ago is a rewarding read. I quote it here simply to render an embarrassed apology for not keeping current month to month with a President’s Message in this space. Sorry about that. My time management skills never were enviable, and lately it has been hard keeping track of what day it is.

We Masonic researchers love past times, and we delight in reading history. One convenient gateway into Freemasonry’s yesterdays is examining those famous men who came in the same way and manner during previous generations. As I write this to you on April 30, it is the 232nd anniversary of Bro. George Washington’s first inauguration as President of the United States. On a typical anniversary, brethren from the Grand Lodge of New York would convene at the very location in Manhattan where that epochal event happened to re-enact the ceremony, replete with the actual Masonic Bible on which Washington placed his hand when taking his oath of office. That is not possible this year as New York still tries to find a way out of the various states of enforced inactivity stemming from the pandemic.

May 1, when this message goes live, is the anniversary of the occasion in 1917 when the Grand Lodge of New York met for its 136th Annual Communication, also in Manhattan. Among the speakers that afternoon was Bro. Theodore Roosevelt, who was Washington’s 25th successor in the presidency, who addressed his Brother Masons on the defining event of those days. Less than a month earlier, the United States had entered what we today call World War I. They were emotional times, with the gamut of enflamed passions, from love of country to hatred of practically all things German. I won’t reproduce all of Roosevelt’s speech, but excerpted for you here are highlights that may induce you to seek out the entire text for your history studies:

Brother Grand Master, Brother Masons from Canada, Brothers and every Mason from our State and from the United States: Busy though I was, and difficult though it was for me to get even an hour away, I could not resist the opportunity you gave to speak to a body like this at such a time as this on such a subject as this. I speak to you, who represent in every community in this State the men to whom we have the right to look for leadership in service, leadership in service to our own brethren, leadership in service to our State as a whole, leadership in service to the United States, and now leadership in service to the calls of justice and freedom throughout the world… .

Now, brothers, it is a fine thing for a nation which treats the possession of the heritage of mighty names in the past as a spur toward good action in the present, but it is an evil thing for that nation to have a heritage of noble achievements in the past if it treats that achievement as an excuse for failure to achieve in the present. It is a fine thing to commemorate Washington’s memory, but only if we try to act now in the spirit of the men who upheld the hands of Washington when he was alive. I want to call your attention to the fact that Washington was not much of a speaker, but he never said anything he did not mean, and he never offered to try to make good what he had said. And I wish us now in this country today to treat as a form of action to be translated into continuing action, or else to be treated as a disgrace to us. It rests with us, with the American people, to make [President Woodrow Wilson’s] message of April 2nd one of the great State papers in our history. And that message will either reflect credit upon America or deepest discredit, accordingly as we do or do not translate it into efficient action… .

There cannot be anything more infamous than a wicked war, and there cannot be anything more glorious, more soul-stirring, than to do one’s duty in the great war for righteousness now being waged, to the end that peace shall come and that it shall be the peace of justice and of righteousness. We don’t wish a foot of land or a dollar of indemnity at the end. All we ask to do is to render service to mankind, but we hope to earn for ourselves the inestimable privilege of handing on to our children, with added glory, the heritage we received from our fathers… .

Therefore, Brothers, use your influence to see that we do two things: prepare, really prepare, and do our full duty in this war; and inaugurate a policy of preparedness that is to be continued after the war, and at the same time strike, and strike now. Let me give you a homely illustration. If a householder knows that there is a homicidal burglar operating in the neighborhood, and says he does not care to purchase an automatic because he is neutral between the burglar and the other householders, and anyhow is a peaceful citizen and does not think anybody is going to attack him…he is guilty of folly. But suppose he then wakes up one night and finds the homicidal burglar in his house, but held by two neighbors so that the burglar can’t get at him at the moment. What do you think of that householder if, when asked to come to the assistance of the two householders with whatever weapon that is handy, which happens to be a poker, he says ‘No, I have now come to the conclusion that an automatic is the right weapon, and I decline to hit the burglar until my automatic has been bought.’ We should say, ‘You were guilty of folly before, but you are a plain, unadulterated fool now, and you cannot atone for folly in the past by worse folly in the present.’ It is just so with us.

If you squander precious time in the social media platforms, you may have seen this quotation in a meme lately: “Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And weak men create hard times.” You might want to suppose that comes from some genius of ancient Western Civilization, but it is borrowed from a novel by a contemporary writer named G. Michael Hopf, a combat veteran himself. It speaks to the Masonic mind for all the obvious reasons you understand from the Third Degree while also insisting there is true urgency embedded in the often mistakenly downplayed daily events of our lives today.

Many Freemasons see themselves as inheritors of some knightly tradition from the Middle Ages, but I’m not one of those. I am content to leave myself in a lineage of strong men who crafted magnificent wonders out of nature’s raw materials in anticipation of good times. A kind of “Knight of Time,” if you will.

Fiat lux. Fiat lex. Fiat pax.

Jay Hochberg