Relief from Suffering

By Wor Bro Clive Herron – Marine Lodge 627IC

I am reminded of the story of a very wealthy lady living a normal but solitary life. She would contribute to the usual charities and would not refuse any good cause.

This lady had a gardener (An old man). He had a peculiar habit. Soon as his duty ended, each evening, he would go to the village and attend to the sick and needy. In due course the old gardener died and soon after this the old lady died. When the old lady went to heaven she found to her surprise that her old gardener was occupying a more superior position than herself. Quite peeved she approached God and said ‘I have done more for charity than my gardener?’ How come he has a more superior position than me? After all what could he have done?”

God smiled and said: “The difference, my dear, is in that you had sympathy; but he had empathy”.


One dictionary says that empathy is the “identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives.” It has also been described as the ability to put oneself in the other fellow’s place or putting of oneself in another’s shoes. Sympathy, by contrast involves supporting the plight of others. You can be sympathetic without necessarily being empathetic; sympathy only requires pity.

Empathy requires first of all that we comprehend the circumstances of someone else and second that we share the feelings that those circumstances provoke in him. Empathy involves our feeling another person’s pain in our own heart.


Why am I telling you this?


Some of you may recall the talk I gave last month on tolerance. I spoke of Tolerance being the unwritten law of Freemasonry. Brotherly Love (and indirectly) Tolerance are termed as one of the Masonic Virtues the others being Relief and Truth. I said to you then, there can be no Brotherly Love without Tolerance. Tonight I am going to tell you that there can be no Brotherly Love unless you are prepared to extend Relief and empathy when called upon to do so.

There may be some who look upon ‘Relief’ as charity but to the informed Freemason ’Relief’ should mean much more. Our Ritual tells us that ‘Relief’ is one of the principal objectives of Freemasonry so we must realise and appreciate that we are addressing a core tenets of Freemasonry when we talk about Relief. Masonic Relief is the cord that binds us together, another cable tow. Relief must come with a charitable heart but it means more than charity in the narrowest sense.

Here is a story which encapsulates the meaning of Masonic Relief.

A salesman breaks down in a remote country lane, a farmer in the adjacent field comes over and they discover that they are “Brothers” The salesman is concerned as he has an important appointment in the local town, “don’t worry says the farmer you can use my car, I will call a friend and get the car repaired whilst you go to the appointment” Off goes the salesman and a couple of hours later he returns but unfortunately the car is awaiting a part which won’t arrive until the next morning. “It’s not a problem,” says the Farmer, “use my telephone and re schedule your first appointment tomorrow, stay with us tonight and we will see that the car is done first thing!” The farmers’ wife prepares a wonderful meal and they share a glass of fine single malt during an excellent evening, the salesman sleeps soundly and when he awakes there is his car, repaired and ready to go. After a full English breakfast the salesman thanks them both for the hospitality. As he and the farmer walk to his car he turns and asks “my Brother, thank you so much but I have to ask, did you help me because I am a Mason?”
“No” was the reply, “I helped you because I am”

Rendering Relief does not wait until a brother is in real distress but through our brotherly love and concern for one another we are to extend that constant hand of friendship, fraternity and fellowship which is the soul of freemasonry. Nowhere in the world should a good Mason feel himself to be alone, friendless or forsaken. The invisible but helpful arms of our Order surround him wherever he may be. 

We are told to “extend relief and consolation to our fellow creatures in the hour of their affliction”. “Relief and consolation” what do they mean?  Perhaps it more understandable to examine it from the opposite end what does ‘Relief and Consolation’ not mean?

Let’s be clear about this. Relief and consolation does not mean merely giving monetary help to the poor and needy. The expression “Relief” has wider and more important meaning to us as Freemasons. Our concept of relief is broader and deeper than the cheque book.

It is not so much the physical acts of help rendered that are important. What deserves appreciation is the ‘empathy (there is that word again) and love that we show to one another.


Listen to what some of the worlds Best known contempories have said


Pope Benedict XVI's first encyclical stresses that the service of charity must be "for all", and come "from the heart", be independent of ideologies and not have ulterior motives.  He cites the work of Mother Theresa (who we know only rendered relief as opposed to financial Help)

Gayatri Krishnamurthy Article in the Hindu Group publication's business newspaper "Businessline"

Charity must come from the heart, not just the pocket

Merely giving things does not constitute charity. Most people feel more empowered by giving their time to charity rather than their money, and they probably achieve more than those who simply give away things.

Bob Hope, one of the best-known Hollywood comics, said, “If you haven’t any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.” Charity has to come from the heart, not just the pocket.

So as Freemasons we are in good company – we have always recognized that to bring about ‘Relief from human suffering’ is one of our primary objectives in creating a better world, and we recognize that relief must come from the heart

We fully recognize that emergency demands can be made by physical and economic distress and that these circumstances may come upon any one of us without warning.

Masonic relief takes it for granted that this can happen to any man, no matter how industrious and frugal he may be. It is possible and can happen that through sudden misfortune, or other conditions over which an individual has no control, he may find himself in temporary need of a helping hand. Extending that hand is not what is generally described as charity. Rather it is one of the inevitable acts of Brotherhood. This concept of Brotherhood must include a willingness to give a Brother the necessary aid when needed. It is these spontaneous acts that draws us together and binds us as Brothers.

I have said that Relief goes beyond the cheque book but there could be occasions where a measure of material relief is necessary. Our own resources sometimes make financial relief difficult but this is not always necessarily a complete solution. We are taught to console his other needs.

The task of the lodge Almoner and Chaplain are important and at times underestimated. They are the link between the distressed brethren and the lodge. The nature of distress could be spiritual or a family problem that requires counseling. All too often the appointment of these two positions lacks proper forethought. Just as a Lodge cannot function without the Master and Wardens it cannot function as it should without the correct involvement of the Almoner and Chaplain. In a proper functioning lodge these two officers should see to, and make recommendations to the Worshipful Master about any possible problem of wellbeing, readjustment, rehabilitation, keeping the family together, or of children’s education, and various other matters vital to the welfare of the concerned Brother in times of distress. Through the whole process, there is the need for spiritual comfort, for the assurance of a sincere and continuing interest in the Brothers welfare and Masonic friendship, which is the real translation of our principal tenet: Brotherly Love.

As Freemasons we are not asked to "give until it hurts." Masons “give until it HELPS”.

You have no doubt heard the story of giving a man a fishing rod and teaching him how to fish as opposed to giving him the fish. This in its purest sense is relief and charity wrapped into one. It symbolises the meaning of Masonic Charity. Relief is brought about by showing empathy and understanding.

Empathy is the logical extension of Masonic Charity and a demonstration of “Brotherly Love” To a Freemason, it a device, a mechanism to make the world a better place for all to live in.

The sharing of the painful feelings of another person is characteristic of both sympathy and empathy. Using sympathy as a medium one tends to pay more attention to the pain than to the cause. Whereas the person using empathy would pay equal attention to the pain and cause.

You, as a member of this great Masonic Fraternity can take pride in the knowledge that you and your Brethren are part of a brotherhood. Your pain is my pain we take our lessons from the same allegorical story. Loyalty to our pledge is paramount. Just as the Builder was not prepared to sacrifice the word to the rogues  – so we should not sacrifice our commitment to brotherly love by refusing to extend a hand of relief and charity when called upon to do so

We know that Charity and Relief are essential ingredients of Masonry but ‘Charity’ alone in the normal course has a limited goal. It may at best cure illnesses here and there but it means far more than putting your hand in your pocket. You need to show that you care.

Masonic Charity should contains the all the lubricant and the cement of life. It should be about restoring faith, confidence, love and dignity. The Masonic Way is to give without remembering and to receive without forgetting."

 The difference between pity and compassion: While pity feels sorry, compassion does something about it!

I would like to finish with the words of two scholars. We can draw much from them if we adopt them into our life they will assist to make the world a better place.

“it is not enough to merely exist…….. you must do something more. Seek always to do some good, somewhere. Every man has to seek his own way to make himself more noble, and to realise his own true worth. You must give some time to your fellow man. Even if a little thing, do something for which you get no pay, but the privilege of doing it. Dr Albert Schweitzer


Do all the good you can

By all the good you can.

In all the ways you can

In all the places you can

At all the times you can

As long as you ever can.

               John Wesley