I have recently read a book entitled Voltaries of Honor ("voltaries" meaning devoted or ardent persons to a cause or ideal), which is essentially a history of the Grand Lodge of the Philippines. I have been aware of the major influence of Freemasonry through our early leaders in the development of the United States of America and assumed that no other country has been impacted by Masonic precepts any more than has our country. When reading this book, however, I became more acutely aware of the magnitude of the influence of the Craft in the development of the Philippines. I also became more aware of how much Freemasonry meant to those men influenced by its ideals.
Complacency and ignorance unfortunately have dulled much of the respect for the Craft that it justly deserves in North America. This is probably the result of most of the present generations having lost the need to struggle to have what we have. For the Filipino, the time span is not that great when they were still struggling to gain the freedoms which we take for granted -- practicing Freemasonry being one of those freedoms.
We point with pride to our past brothers who played an integral role in creating this magnificent country of ours, but let me quote the first president of the Philippines, Emilio Aguinaido, to show how much the Craft meant to them: "The successful Revolution of 1886 was Masonically inspired, Masonically led, and Masonically executed. And I venture to say, that the first Philippine Republic of which I was the humble president, was an achievement we owe largely to Masonry and the Masons." Speaking of the revolutionists, he added, "With God to illumine them, and Masonry to inspire them, they fought the battle of emancipation and won." What an inspirational statement from one who should know.
There were two observations I made from this book amongst many which should be foundation stones for the Craft wherever it exists. The first referencing of the Craft is: "Peace and harmony prevailed in the Fraternity. Men of different races, nationalities, religions, and political beliefs mingled together in the spirit of true brotherhood." The second relating to the occupation during the war stated: "It was only the outward manifestations of Masonry -- the conduct of meetings and the holding of ceremonies -- which the Japanese succeeded in disrupting. The Masonic spirit, the very essence of Masonry continued to live on in the hearts and minds of Masons."
Freemasonry in the world today has its greatest appreciation where struggle is continuing; i.e., the emerging former communist-dominated and third world countries. It always has been at its strongest when adversity has been at its strongest. Perhaps the strength lies in direct proportion to the challenges. Perhaps this is what is needed in North American lodges to strengthen it today. If complacency can weaken it, challenge should strengthen it. If the challenge does not come from without, then it must be provided from within, and realistically, it is already here. Apathy is just as prevalent within the Craft as it is outside of it. We are as guilty of taking Freemasonry for granted as are those outside of it in taking for granted all that we do for serving mankind. Indeed, that attitude may be the major cause of our decline in numbers.
Those of us who are leaders must shoulder the responsibility to accept the challenge, to strengthen the Craft, to regain its influence, to retain its quality, and to destroy the apathy. We owe it to our past brethren and to the world. Our goal must be to reinforce those two foundation stones observed in Voltaries of Honor. Peace and harmony must prevail, and the Masonic spirit must live on.