Ladies and Gentlemen,
The topic we chose for reflection this year focuses on the processes related to building.
To us, as Freemasons, ancient builders of cathedrals, the symbols and practices linked with building have a central role. Our Rituals glorify architectural works, the building process, according to a metaphor that inextricably links the idea of external and internal improvement, that is “uplifting”. Indeed, we believe that it is impossible to build a Temple – whether symbolic or real – if a corresponding internal Temple is not constructed – a “spiritual forum” that is more intimate and at the same time able to monitor a path of growth that is covered bearing in mind ethos, tolerance and a search for civil harmony.
Therefore, to a Freemason, building is first of all a form of “education” or, put more simply, “self-education” to the ethical-moral building of the “self”: the Freemason learns to carry out a constant renewal, a constant improvement. And to do so, the Freemason must learn to be a free man.
It is in freedom that one becomes oneself; it is in the awareness that he may become a citizen of the world, no longer subject to the reality, but a maker of one’s own destiny. In our opinion, today free men are needed more than ever.
We see it every day; contemporary society, and the Italian society in particular, is experiencing a moral and ethical crisis, which hits and at times humiliates both the communities and the individuals. A reality that we, as Freemasons, cannot accept passively – we are in charge of making proposals.
The regular Freemasonry – I’d like to state it clearly and immediately – does not have direct political aims, nor does it take part in the competition between political parties. In fact, it refrains rigorously from engaging in political competition. Yet, thanks to its neutrality vis-à-vis the institutions, the Freemasonry must grasp any opportunity originating from such a special asymmetry; being an integral and living part of society, authoritative enough to judge, yet avoiding a propagandistic search for electoral consensus and easy appreciations. Our diversity must instead be enhanced through the constant ability to focus on key issues, even though they may seem or be uncomfortable (even worse), to insist on issue related to ethos and values, when others have no longer the time, the willingness, or maybe the interest, in doing so.
The issue of freedom of thought and intents is included in the minima moralia of the Masonic discourse, so much so that the certainty about our Brethren’s freedom of spirit has been, since the 18th century, the essential precondition to be admitted to the Order. The Freemason must be a free man as a human status, and even more in his beliefs, choices, and decisions; therefore, a citizen at the height of his responsibility; he is never a subject, a slave to the will of the various powers, ready to serve even before receiving an order. A man without freedom has no real responsibilities, he is a mere servant. Even worse is the case in which men have decided to relinquish freedom.
Our institution aims therefore at emphasizing the strengthening of all the feelings able to redeem the human beings from the apathy of submission, from the desolate decision to accept a loss of trust in the gamut of values on which the modern civil societies were founded. Today, such societies seem instead to turn in upon themselves, in a sort of dramatic eclipse of civic courage, of growing disengagement and general despondency.
The frequency with which – in the profane world – attempts are being made to have strength prevail over reason spurs us not to turn in upon ourselves, but react by putting forward the key issues that we believe are at stake for the future of an entire civilization.
The trio that we proposed – Responsibility, Participation, and Renewal – may be developed in multiple forms. Some of them are out of our scope, whereas others are deeply rooted in the process of reflection, ethical and above all spiritual.
With a fit of despondency we are forced to realize that – unfortunately – Responsibility seems to be absent in our current situation. The ruling classes, not only in the public scenario, seem to prefer the dictatorial model based on the unwillingness to assume responsibilities, on privileges based on self-legitimization emerging from dominant and privileged positions as opposed to situations of profound suffering. As the reality shows, those who order sacrifices and sufferings, would not be able to bear even a minimum amount of those sufferings and sacrifices. And this is ethically unacceptable. In the old military schools, conscripts were taught that to be able to order other people to clean the lavatories, one should have previously performed the same task. Similarly, in order to ask other people to make sacrifices, one should have experienced the same situation, being asked to make sacrifices. At the end of the day, setting an example and ensuring devotion are essential virtues. On the contrary, the banal philosophy of the so-called “cunning fellows”, who think it is sufficient to hide behind the most disadvantaged, so as to be awarded the honour of victory later on, and having a way out ready in case of failure, is an evident expression of despotism and moral abuse.
Power without Responsibility is the hallmark of tyranny, not of democracy. The greatest the power, the greatest the responsibility before oneself, before the others, before the Supreme Being – whatever his name – who is also a key reference for the Freemasonry – we call him by the acronym G.A.O.T.U. – Grand Architect Of The Universe.
Many people do not know that in the exciting stages before Initiation to Freemasonry, the neophyte is asked three questions, which mark his only Masonic Testament: he is asked – imperatively – to specify, in his view, what his duties are, vis- à-vis the Supreme Being, himself, and Mankind, in this precise order. This is no game or riddle.
The aim of such questions is to test the moral conscience of those who approach our Brotherhood, regarding Responsibility, an issue that should be considered by all civil institutions, which ought to be tested on such an important topic.
For this reason, the issue of Responsibility has been a distinctive fil rouge over the last years, marked by a renewal of Freemasonry; a renewal that concerned different but interlinked issues. Just to make some examples, concerning the relationship between man and nature; can we leave to our successors a destroyed, “violated” world, without usable resources? Concerning the relationship between civil and individual ethos; which room should there be for individual choices vis-à-vis the finis vitae (the end of life?).
In a society that tackles bioethics only in an instrumental way, we reflected on pain and on the respect for the diversity of choices. Another example: what is our duty when it comes to the education of young generations through the protection and the enhancement of school and scientific research? We are very much concerned about a country that witnesses a constant brain drain, because this means an announced death for our future. What shall we do once we are left with the worst or least courageous people? What shall we do once we have given away a professional, intellectual, and scientific élite, to continue fostering familism and the arrogant negligence towards excellence? Where shall we ever go? Our future lies in the choices that we make today, in our Responsibility.
Today, we are in the middle of a global crisis of unprecedented proportions, not only in economic, but also in spiritual terms. Such a crisis is “bound to be – according to the outlook – far more harmful for the future of democracy: it is the world crisis affecting education and culture”. These are the words used by the philosopher Martha Nussbaum, who envisages a dull future for us. According to this philosopher, modernity is setting aside all the know-how that is essential to keep democracy alive; if this situation persists, we will create “generations of docile machines”, not citizens. People will no longer be able to think for themselves, to “criticize tradition and understand the meaning of other people’s sufferings and needs”. In this sad reality, the future of democracy really seems to be hanging by a single thread.
Freemasonry has no answers, but it teaches to ask questions, to create a free space in which different voices may be compared, in which there is no predominance of a single thought, but rather a confluence of different thoughts, religions, and philosophies. This is why Participation and Renewal originate from Responsibility, because citizens become the key players in current choices and future consequences.
However, freedom of conscience is not a gift coming from above, nor is it a thing that can be purchased; it is a conquest. Because being a citizen is an engagement. “A citizen’s country is the place where he sweats, cries and laughs, a place where he strives to earn a living”, Jorge Amado wrote. Nobody is a citizen in theory, but in a certain land, and real citizens fight for social justice and rights.
Freedom, to us as Freemasons, goes hand in hand with Laity; both are essential components of every liberal democracy established by citizens who participate in multiple conceptions of the world, in the beauty of difference and their civil and religious ideas. We want to contribute, as builders, to outline a civil ethos that must find the “bond” of a new coexistence, as Giordano Bruno exhorted.
The Freemasonry model can and must be a model of growth, a tool for raising awareness. And a multiplier, by uniting what is dispersed. This is, and has always been, our task. The Master of Work only has one love: building. Mankind, to us, is infinitely and definitely more important than the economy.
For this reason, right in this very difficult moment, the Freemasons of the Grand Orient of Italy solemnly reiterate their full intellectual, moral and material engagement to provide a contribution that may be useful for civil society and our Country. And all this through all the educational instruments that contribute to foster the needs of citizens to become “ripe”, to work so as to strengthen the bond of loyalty vis-à-vis civil institutions, the Constitution, and the President of the Republic, as the supreme authority guaranteeing order and democracy. As we did on the occasion of our active participation in the celebrations for the 150th Anniversary of the Unification of Italy, with top-level initiatives and events – as acknowledged by public institutions – today, not only do we reiterate, but we also strengthen, the pact of Brotherhood between the heroes of the Italian Risorgimento – the Fathers of our Country – and Italy. Today Italy is engaged as an integral part of a wider European Community, where the idea of Brotherhood must once again be a distinctive element.
Along with Responsibility, therefore, we also want to stress the concept of solidarity, a greater sense of common belonging, less nationalistic antagonism, and above all, far-sightedness. The élites who made mistakes are called upon to pay for their wrong-doings, but it does not seem tolerable to us that a whole people – such as the Greeks and the Cypriots – are now forced to live with hunger. The very idea of European Civilization should prevent such situations.
We are not going to propose recipes, but we know that all our Brethren are actively committed – each one according to his own beliefs and his free conscience – to bringing their contribution based on reasonableness and willingness to build, in the construction of a fairer common home.
Freedom to build means exactly this: accomplishing a common history. Not blowing on the embers of misunderstanding, but rather paving the way for convergence. A prospect which is not built with laws or religious practices, but with an ethical sensitivity that must be promoted, if we are to have citizens who are key players and not subjects, citizens able to establish real ties of solidarity. Laity, pluralism, and the ethics of dialogue are the preconditions to build something. What we should search, in order to build our future, is the profound sense of life. And we, as Freemasons, may find this sense in our work, under the starry vault of the Masonic Temple. Thus, we can make such a proposal to all the men who – like us and with us – are willing to look for new pathways.
The Masonic pathway is initiatory, and its core element is the symbolic passage through the darkness of death towards a new light. This should open the eyes of those who, in their immaturity, believe they are immortal and move forward with the intolerant blindness of those who have too many uncritical certainties. The provocation originated in the Initiation is useful to learn the profound sense of Brotherhood, with the aim not to turn it into a means for abuse of power, favoritism, but into an inner resource, an extra moral strength to use in difficult times, when one could falter. A Freemason has the duty to contribute to the well-being and progress of Mankind. I would not be able to find a greater collective Responsibility than this. A Responsibility before which each of us has committed himself vis-à-vis the Supreme Being, himself and Mankind.
The history that we want is a place of Responsibility, with room for acceptance. We must not be afraid; the search is best fostered along the borders. Shadows fall when one looks into the eyes of the others.
This is what has been done in the last 14 years of work as Grand Master, this is what will be done in the future, taking pride because we are free men, and we look towards the future. This is our history, this is the action that we shall bring forward, in the Temple and in the agora. We shall do it with labara and books, the meetings and the many young people knocking on our doors. We shall do it with intelligence and passion, looking with confidence to the future, and continuing to think, to fly high and to build.
We choose our own history.