I used to spend all my afternoon break in Fort Santiago when I was still a student of Letran College. It was just a 10 minute walk from my school. I would appreciate those mementoes of Dr. Joe Rizal specially his belt, a number of talismans, books, shirt and pants among others. As for his sartorial taste, I thought that those were my clothing too. Rizal was about my size and I could relate how he stood from ground up. Actually I am taller by a couple of inches. And then there was this compilation of his letters to his priest confessor requiring him to retract and surrender his beliefs and membership from masonry. That was my first appreciation of the word masonry aside from its operative meaning. Furthermore, I learned that almost all of Rizal’s colleagues in the Propaganda Movement were all masons.
Contemplating on Masonry
After graduation, I thought of inquiring about it. My father was mum about the organization; my mother was even against it. Since they could not answer the why, I persevered to know more about the fraternity. My first and last stop was the Grand Masonic Lodge in San Marcelino St., Taft Avenue, Manila. It was a very imposing and a vintage edifice with a number of ancient looking sculptures. It looked impressive as it projected quite a number of symbols from vines, to flowery shrubs to mean looking artworks. I stopped short however from entering the massive entrance door made of solid acacia and thought that it would not served my youthful and inquisitive mind. I would rather enter it later if I would have the stomach for such intellectual adventure. Meanwhile, I would merely coast along some fraternal orders composed of my peers in college.
Membership in Freemasonry never left my mind though. But I had no idea how to join it. Until one day, several years later, a friend would accompany me to a Masonic lodge. I would be impressed on how they would deal with applicants. First, the candidate must be a confirmed man, without defects and with a clear state of mind. He must act and apply on his own without any reference from members. The aspirant however is required to adhere in just one principle in his application, a belief in a Supreme Being. There is no space in the organization for atheism.
How a Mason becomes one
What made me fulfill my application as a hopeful member was how those who took up my cause deliberated on the form I submitted. I was informed that in the adjacent room where members assess the contender, there is a hypothetical scenario to be offered among them. Accordingly, the assessor has a beautiful wife and three lovely daughters. The assessor must leave for abroad for three months. The question is: Will you, as that assessor, allow and trust the applicant to take care of your house, where your wife and kids are staying, while you are away for a duration of time? After the question is thrown, two small marble stones are handed over to the assessors, a black and a white one. A box is circulated and with complete secrecy, the individual assessor must slip into the compartment either one of the stones. A white one signifies trust and the black one means distrust. As soon as the box has been filled, the presiding assessor empties the box in front of them all. A single black marble coming out from the box means that the applicant is rejected. His name will be sent to all lodges here and abroad indicating that his application has been denied. It indicates that he is barred from entering the craft anywhere. That is where the idiomatic expression of being black balled came from.
I thought that it was a nice way of recruiting. No wonder, whenever a mason sees another, he felt that he is always with his brother; that he is with someone whom he can fully trust.
My application was approved and I was initiated as an Entered Apprentice into the fraternal order (Andres Bonifacio Lodge, District # 199, Capitol Masonic Lodge, Kalayaan Avenue, Diliman, Quezon City). From there, I took note of all the reading materials and read everything that pertains the brotherhood; from its ancient history to its current symbolical summation. I was some kind of a Dan Brown (of the Da Vinci Code fame) already before the novelist started his literary exposition on the Craft.
Masonic literature is rich with allegorical contents. Its central perspective is on wisdom. It has its own interpretation of sensitive philosophical issues. It is almost a religion although during conferences, no member is allowed to discuss religion and politics because of its divisive considerations. One specific religious understanding which turned off the Church is the Masonic view of Jesus Christ. The Church subscribe to the belief that Jesus is God who became a man. The Craft looks at Christ as man who became God. From there, the Church had misgivings about masons. And why not take the latter explanation as feasible. It is respectable for a laborer to finally become a manager, than for a manager to become eventually a laborer. Anyway, the schism in terms of understanding was carried into a historical battle to the point that masons are not even allowed to be buried in the hallowed grounds for Catholics.
During the Commonwealth period, President Manuel L. Quezon, a mason himself, chose his cabinet according to their respective proficiency and qualification—they also must be masons. Result: Quezon’s administration was the most respected, revered and competent in the history of government service. Quezon would even be emboldened to quip, “I would rather have a government run like hell by Filipinos than by foreigners!” After his term, ironically, unqualified leaders came one after another and eventually, government became hell. But that is another story.
For me, Freemasonry is about limitations. One must have a personal compass on which he would be able to determine his own capabilities. And a square, so that from there he must carry on with confidence accomplishing all his concerns in a straight and proper way. At the center of these two precious jewels is his belief in the Almighty. Having these points in his mind, the mason proceeds to spend the rest of his life in brotherly love, relief (charity) and truth.