As I started to think about my annual Christmas message to the Province, my preparations were somewhat checked by the Special Edition of "First Rising" addressing the issue of the relationship between Freemasonry and Religion! I don’t know for certain, but I suspect that this may have been prompted by the Vatican’s recent confirmation of its prohibition against Roman Catholics becoming Freemasons and has been the position of the Roman Church since 1738.
The basis for the long-standing objection to Freemasonry is that the Roman Church believes that the doctrines of the Christian Faith and Freemasonry are irreconcilable. Essentially, Freemasonry is considered to be a rival religion, and therefore incompatible with the beliefs of Christianity.
To a Freemason this immediately appears somewhat puzzling given that we are not told at any point that it is a religion, but rather that we should not find in the ritual anything contrary to our religious beliefs, and charged to abstain from every topic of religious discussion to ensure the harmony of the Lodge! As the Catholic Church re-affirmed its position, so the United Grand Lodge of England re-affirmed its position as stated in 1962. This response undoubtedly reflects the importance of the matter to both the institution and indeed to individual Freemasons.
Grand Lodge reiterated the fact that Freemasonry is not a religion, does not seek to compete with any religion, and has nothing to say in matters of theology or the dogma of any given religion. At the same time, every Freemason is of course required to believe in a Supreme Being before being admitted a member, and by implication therefore would appear to support religion!
I am sure that many of us of know faithful Roman Catholics who are active Freemasons, and how difficult it is for them. This is a long-standing division and sadly runs deep. It does however recall our mind to the importance of our understanding of what the Fraternity is, what it is not, and how it interacts with other aspects of our life.
During my year in office as Assistant Grand Chaplain I was delighted by the fact that my fellow Assistant Grand Chaplain was a Jewish Rabbi. My successor is a Welsh speaking Non-Conformist minister, although now tending his flock on the outskirts of London. How beautiful a thing it was when the three of us met at the Quarterly Communications meeting in Newport – greeting each other with a warm fraternal embrace…
As an Anglican Priest myself and like the present Assistant Grand Chaplains, we are faithful and committed to our respective faiths and Churches. We don’t cease to be a priest, a rabbi, a minister when we enter a Lodge, and we are fortunate that we are free to exercise the important office of Chaplain within the Fraternity.
In this Province, it is fair to say that for the majority of brethren the Supreme Being in whom we believe is God as revealed in the holy writings of the Old and New Testaments, the Volume of the Sacred Law which we have in our Lodges. It therefore appears right and proper for us to reflect on the significance of this time of year, accepting that our Supreme Being is not regarded as the exclusive Supreme Being, but acknowledging the central importance of the Supreme Being in our lives as a whole, including being a Freemason.
In an increasingly secular society, not acknowledging any Supreme Being, it is troubling how little knowledge exists as to the origins of Christmas. ‘Something to do with a baby who was born a long time ago’ was an explanation I recently heard. Much is made of the fact that the Christian celebration of the coming of the true Light of the word, assumed earlier pagan celebrations of light, at this the darkest time of the year. This takes no account of the fact that Christmas Day is celebrated on 25th December because it falls nine months after the feast celebrating Gabriell’s visit to the Blessed Virgin Mary, one of the oldest festivals of the Church!
The commercial Christmas is also a distraction from what is truly important - what is celebrated and why. So many things demand our time and attention in the run up to Christmas, that there is a very real danger that when Christmas arrives, we are well and truly fed up and just want to get it over and done with! It is a sad reflection of what we have allowed Christmas to become, and we have to be strong and determined not to allow such influences to mar what is the most beautiful Season and central to our belief.
It is why we are Christians, it is why we have the New Testament, it celebrates that moment in time when God’s relationship with the whole of creation was transformed. God born a man. This is really not the sort of thing that gods did! Quite the opposite in fact, the gods were gods and mortals were mere mortals. Christians read the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament, and believe that Jesus is the Messiah foretold and promised in the Old Testament.
Jesus being fully human and fully divine, born in substance as we are born, lived in fact as we live and died in essence as we will die. The proof of his divinity is that Jesus defeated death and rose to life again on the third day. That is why we celebrate Christmas, and what we celebrate is that Jesus has promised life eternal to those who believe in him and put their trust in him.
What do you trust in? Who do you trust? Through God’s promises in the Old Testament, fulfilled in part by the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we know that we can trust God. Trust in him and be hopeful that by the love of God, when the time comes, when Jesus comes again to this world on the last day, we will rise to that life eternal, the promise yet to be fulfilled, but which we believe will come.
Our belief in God as a Freemason’s Supreme Being enables us to be members of the Fraternity, and I pray that our membership of the Fraternity makes us “better” men, and certainly does not militate against our Faith.
Our Faith is important and valuable and has so much to teach us and to teach others, while accepting that not everyone believes the same thing. As we celebrate the birth of our Saviour and Redeemer and think on how that changes who we are and how we live our lives, we give thanks to God for such great blessings, and strive all the more to do good, inspired by the example of Jesus and following his teaching.
I offer this prayer:
Almighty God, Most High, who has revealed the glory of your love in the face of Jesus Christ, and called us by him to live as your children: fill our hearts as we remember his nativity, with the gladness of this great redemption; that we may join in the heavenly song of glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, and goodwill towards all men; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I wish you peace and joy at Christmas, and health and contentment in the New Year.
Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda i bob un ohonoch.