2007 Response

Of the body of men who are Raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason in a year, of their number one is selected to present at the Installation a Response, an accounting of their initial year as a Freemason for the Lodge. The 2007 Response was given by Brother Robert M. Wolfarth. Delivered, December 8, 2006, Salt Lake Masonic Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah. Archive of previous Responses

Worshipful Master and lady, Past Masters, distinguished guests, brethren and friends:

It’s an honor beyond words to stand before you tonight—and I don’t say that lightly. Just over a year ago when I petitioned to join Wasatch Lodge as a wide-eyed Entered Apprentice, I learned about the annual Response. Silently, I coveted the opportunity to stand at this podium, called to account for my first year as a Master Mason. Now, here I am, thanks to an invitation by Worshipful Master Bronc Morton!

Let me start by joining the chorus of appreciation for Worshipful Brother Drew Sanders, who came to the East with a vision and led this Lodge with purpose, agility, and confidence. Now he passes the gavel to Brother Morton, in whose capable hands we will grow further and learn more. My highest respects to both of you gentlemen.

In the late 1980s, I had the grand privilege of working for the United States Senate in the personal office of a fine gentleman and fellow Texan, the Honorable Lloyd Bentsen. I was fresh from college at the time, drunk with idealism and high on quotes like Lillian Hellman’s rhetorical question:

“Since when do you have to agree with people to defend them from injustice?”

The difference between good and evil seemed so clear to me. I moved to Washington motivated to change the world. Spread ideals like rising above dogma to work together, and charity to those in need—regardless of their agreement with my politics or religion. Surely, if I just reasoned with people, they would see that we can all achieve these ideals, hand in hand…all being God’s children.

From my cluttered cubicle in the Hart Senate Office Building, I could view the Senate proceedings on closed-circuit TV. Now this may come as a shock to you, but sometimes thoughtful debate slows, and the Senate doesn’t get much done. In one of those moments of legislative laxity, a few Senators were chatting as I watched. Somehow, the odd subject of Freemasonry came up. My boss stated that he was a Mason. Majority Leader Robert Byrd of West Virginia said he was also a Mason, and Minority Leader Robert Dole of Kansas chimed in that he was, too. I turned to my coworker and mentor in foreign policy and asked, “What’s a Mason?” He grinned, cocked his chair back, and told me about this great but subtle society of men who do good deeds and try to become better men.

Well, that was almost 20 years ago. Brother Bentsen passed away this year, but that concept stuck in the back of my mind for many moons as I continued to study of religions, philosophy, and ethics in my quest for Truth. I often wondered about a quote by Viscount John Morley:

“No man can climb out beyond the limitations of his own character.”

What are the limits of my own moral character? My motto has always been “seek virtue”…but by what yardstick do I judge whether I’ve improved? Am I a better man than I was last year? More virtuous? How?

Now and then, I bumped into other references to these “Masons.” Finally, the intrigue got the best of me. I began to study the fraternity. Who ARE these guys? And what are they really up to? I dove face-first into books and the Web. What do the good guys say? How about the bad guys? What do the good guys say about what the bad guys say?

I dropped in on lodges in different cities. The more I asked, the more it became clear that Freemasonry offered a pathway for me to study justice, truth, tolerance, and many of the ideals I held dear, while bearing no conflict with my religious convictions. It was only many years later—indeed, just a few years ago—that I discovered that my uncle is a 32° Master Mason, and my grandfather was a Thrice Illustrious Master in Cryptic Masonry. Brothers, as an aside, please don’t let your children and grandchildren grow up in the dark, utterly unaware that you are a Mason! This is not a secret society.

Finally, after relocating from Austin to Salt Lake, I petitioned Wasatch Lodge #1. Almost exactly a year ago, I was initiated as an Entered Apprentice. By late February of this year, I was a Master Mason.

I was home! At last: amongst a group of men who also seek virtue! Not only that, but men who actively embrace—as I do—the exploration of different philosophies, religions, and ideas, and who aggressively promote freedom of thought and tolerance of other views. Notions that I believe promote the prosperity of society as a whole.

In the ensuing months, my involvement with this fraternity deepened. My bride and I shared a fine evening with many brethren at Brother Mozart’s Masonic opera, The Magic Flute. I attended two Masonic funerals which were very moving, and one cornerstone ceremony at Westminster College. I visited with several gentlemen who were interested in the Craft at the monthly “Freemasons Meet-up” and hopefully answered at least some of their questions accurately. I’ve done lots of reading, attended several degree ceremonies, served on investigative committees, and have started to coach a new Entered Apprentice.

Three short weeks ago, I was delighted to be accepted as a candidate for the degrees of Scottish Rite Masonry in the historic 208th Reunion, in which I and 19 other Master Masons progressed through 29 degrees in 2½ days. What an intense, humbling, and challenging experience that was! As I said at the Reunion Banquet, it was rather like running through the Enlightenment in 3 days. For any of you Master Masons who are considering the Scottish Rite, here’s my plug for next year’s reunion. It’s fantastic!

While I was there, I somehow also got talked into joining those clowns in the Shrine. And I use the term “clowns” literally! Seriously, I’m looking forward to being a Shriner, both as another avenue to serve my community and also to have a good time.

But these are just activities I can rattle off in a speech, not the activities in my mind and heart, which have been far more profound and far more difficult to put into words. It will have to suffice to say that this journey—barely one year old—has already begun to affect my psyche, my persona, and the way I treat my fellow man. So tonight, I say on behalf of myself and my brethren in this class: thank you for raising me to the sublime degree of Master Mason. Thank you for all the good work you and others have done to make my experiences here so enriching.

This has been an astounding year by all accounts. I’ve spoken with several of my brethren of the Class of 2006, and I think the excitement and support for this Lodge is unanimous. I presumptuously speak tonight on behalf of ten fine gentlemen who also became Master Masons this year. They, too, have shared this amazing journey with me, and are undoubtedly either nodding their heads or silently wishing I would try to put their experiences into words as well. I wish I could.

Before I close, please let me urge you to take a few thoughts to heart. My brethren, use this stately venue in the same way you use your house of worship, your libraries, your cafes, and your schools: to become strong in mind, body, and spirit. One lesson that’s crystal clear to me is that there’s more to learn within these walls than I ever could have imagined.

But don’t stop here. Continue this journey elsewhere. The world is bursting with lessons in morality. Read the Koran. Read the Vedas. Read the Talmud. Study Confucius, Jefferson, and the Gospels. Read Georg Hegel, Ayn Rand, and Thomas Aquinas. Read who you love—and who you hate. Talk to your Brothers. Debate them. Challenge them. Learn from them.

Seek virtue everywhere. Hold yourself to a higher and higher standard. And never forget the Brothers who have come this way before. Among us in these noble halls walk the silent footsteps of wise men who have left us a legacy of brilliance that we dare not leave to founder. Let Freemasonry shine to the world as an example of good men who, united for a common cause, always accept the brotherhood of Man—regardless of the man.

In humility, my brothers, I thank you for all you have taught me. If, in your eyes, I stand before you an upright man and Mason, then surely this year has been a success. Please continue to teach me when I ask. And I will continue to ask, study, and learn. Together, let us seek more light in Masonry. And together, my brothers, let us change the world through self-improvement, justice, tolerance, and good deeds. We are capable of doing all of this and more. And we owe it to ourselves and our children to do no less.

Thank you. Good night, and may peace be with you.

Robert M. Wolfarth, Master Mason