In ancient Greece, it was customary to award the winners of Olympic events with a crown fashioned from laurel branches. In modern-day Boston, the winner of the marathon receives the same award and the term laureate, as in Poet Laureate has its origin in the word laurel and signifies that the poet has received a special honor for his or her work.
In the most recent Freemason Magazine, you may have read that for the first time in fifty years, the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania has seen an increase in membership - in fact we have increased by 449 members since the end of 2009. That they have seen an increase can also be said of a few of the Lodges represented here tonight, not all of them unfortunately, but some. As membership growth was arguably the cornerstone of Grand Master Sturgeon’s 21st Century Masonic Renaissance, it might then be fitting and proper for us to award him a crown of laurels and maybe even give them to ourselves for helping in the effort. After all, it took the hard work of many to see such a feat accomplished.
The tendency after making a great effort can sometimes be to take a break. It is human nature after all to occasionally rest from our labors. Let’s take a look however at those mentioned earlier and see if that is what they would do. Would an Olympian finish the competition and be satisfied to fade into oblivion? Would he see all the hard work and energy spent to reach the pinnacle of success be immediately undone – satisfied to return to his home and ordinary life? Probably not. Would the marathon runner hang up her shoes, never to run again? No. She would probably go out the next day for a recovery run and continue to keep herself in peak physical condition – able to compete again. Would the poet, a person uniquely qualified to craft the written word in such a way as to invoke images, colors and emotions in the minds of all who read his words stop writing and stop dreaming after one poem? No. He would continue to hone his art and make the world a more beautiful place through his words.
The origin of the term “resting on one’s laurels” comes from the idea that people rely on their past achievements rather than constantly moving forward toward a new goal or a new horizon.
I am here to tell you tonight, Brethren, that we as Freemasons are NOT going to rest on our laurels. We are not going to sit back and bask in the glory of a year of growth, pat each other on the back and say “Great job! Let’s go grab a beer.” We are going to use the momentum we have gained to continue to move our Lodges forward, continue to grow and continue to do good works in our communities and for our charities. We shall not be content to sit back, rest on our laurels and say at some future date that we were part of that ONE year when Freemasonry grew.
The Grand Master has authorized us to hold regional One Day Journeys. We will be holding ours in conjunction with the 47th and 55th Districts at the Greater Pittsburgh Masonic Center on October 15th of this year. More details will follow, but preliminarily, it will follow a similar format to last year’s event. I expect every Lodge to grow this year - every Lodge. We will set goals for growth and plans to achieve it. If we ask each of our new Brothers from last year’s Journey to recommend at least one friend, we would be nearly there.
To increase our visibility in our communities, we will continue to do service projects, helping to make our towns and neighborhoods places that we can be proud of. To help the public understand just who we are, every Lodge will hold at least one open house and invite the community into the Lodge to see how it works. Breakfasts, sponsorships of community events and booths at local festivals also help to make people aware of who we are and what we do and I encourage your Lodges to consider them.
Every Lodge will again hold fundraisers to benefit Masonic and other charities. I expect every Lodge to make at least a $2,000 contribution to Masonic Youth Groups, not because the Grand Master has asked – he has not. Not because I asked either, but because it is the right thing to do. Charity is one of the basic tenets of our Craft and if we do not continually strive to be charitable – especially to those institutions ancillary to our own – then we are not being faithful to our calling as Freemasons. Not every Lodge met the $2,000 request last year. Some did not really even try which is enormously disappointing. This year we all will. I know we will because I am even going to get in on the game. I am training to run the Pittsburgh Marathon in May and I will be seeking pledges for the Pennsylvania Masonic Youth Foundation. There will soon be a link set up on the District Website where pledges can be made by credit card through Paypal. My goal is to raise at least $2,000 as well. I cannot even imagine the embarrassment a Lodge will feel if the District Deputy, using only his feet, his training and four hours of intense suffering, is able to raise more money than its 200 plus members.
Am I asking a lot of you? Maybe. But to those to whom much has been given, much is expected. You have been given the singular honor of being a Freemason. You are following in the footsteps of some of the greatest men ever to walk this earth – poets, writers, men of letters, men who have freed nations from tyranny and countless others who have risked or given their lives that others may be free. So I will ask that question a different way: Is asking you to sacrifice a few hours of your personal time to ease the path for our youth, to better your community and to grow this great Fraternity for another year too much? I hope your personal answer is no.
Sisyphus was a great king of Greek mythology. For overstepping his bounds and angering Zeus, he was condemned to spend eternity pushing a heavy boulder up a hill. Just before he would reach the top with it, however, it would slip away and roll again to the bottom and he would be forced to start all over again. Thus a Sisyphean task is one that is pointless or interminable.
Making Freemasonry better is certainly not pointless, but it most assuredly is interminable. Last year’s growth is just that -last year’s. It is history, relegated to the pages of our own mythology. The boulder is back at the bottom of the hill and must be pushed up again. Instead of watching one man do it himself, let us band together and help Sisyphus. Whether you interpret that as helping your Lodge and Grand Lodge grow and prosper, working to see your Lodge become relevant or making your community a better place to live is up to you. But if we each stand up, put our shoulder to the stone and help our own Sisyphus, we will most assuredly lighten the load for others and make ourselves again worthy of the name Freemason, not resting on our laurels while there is work yet to be done.
I want you to join me - not because I ask, but because you know it is the right thing to do – join me in continuing the hard work required to make this Fraternity greater so that we can look back in years to come and say not that we were part of that one year when we grew, but that we were there at the beginning of its Renaissance, the time that Freemasonry reawakened and began the long-term rise to the greatness it deserves.