JOHN FREDERICK SULLIVAN 1962-
- MM 2007, WM 2015-2016, Morning Star
- DDGM, District 23, 2017-2018
- Member 2019, Trinity
- Member 2019, Franklin
- Member 2020, The Masters
- Deputy Grand Master, 2022
FEAST OF ST. JOHN, 2021
Most Worshipful Grand Master and Past Grand Masters, Distinguished Guests, Brethren All:
It is my sincere honor, to stand before you today as Deputy Grand Master of Masons in Massachusetts. It is a truly humbling distinction; one that I am confident that I will only come to fully appreciate in the months and years to come. Thank you, Most Worshipful, for your trust and confidence; I pledge to uphold that trust and to strengthen that confidence.
In my preparations for this address, I researched many of the speeches given on this occasion. I wanted to find out; "Why is it that the Deputy Grand Master gives the only speech at the Feast of St. John?" – and this is what I found. Primarily, and most importantly, this is an opportunity for the Deputy to act on behalf of all of the appointed officers, and to publicly thank the Grand Master for this tremendous opportunity – the opportunity to serve this historic jurisdiction under his outstanding leadership for the upcoming year. Most Worshipful, on behalf of this exceptional group, we thank you!
Secondarily, I found out, one of the less likely reasons, the Deputy Grand Master is offered this opportunity, is, upon being asked to serve in this position, you are essentially quarantined! You agree to keep silent about the honor, and must skillfully “fly below the radar” while the candidates for Senior and Junior Grand Wardens go on a whistle-stop tour of the jurisdiction! Let me take this opportunity to offer my sincere congratulations to the newly elected “pillar officers”, I look forward to a wonderful year of Masonic labors and camaraderie with you both; and also, to the two other outstanding candidates who served to further distinguish themselves in the process; beloved Masons all!
So, basically, this speech is the first opportunity for the “sequestered” Deputy Grand Master to finally have a voice; to let out all of the pent-up energy that has been festering for these many months – so, here we go!
In my research, I read nearly all of the living Past Deputy Grand Master’s speeches, and those of a few others. I came across some wonderful works; thoughtful treatises on various subjects of the day; and like the lessons of our degrees, most are truly timeless, their relevance not lost with the passing of time. As I read through the various works, I found that many took this opportunity to give a “state of the fraternity” address; a synopsis of the organization at that moment in our history. Some gave very personal accounts of what Masonry had meant to them; how they had arrived at this moment with the aid and assistance of so many a cherished brother. And still others looked within the lessons of the fraternity for inspiration, to secure a theme that might resonate with the brethren.
I distinctly remember being stirred by the address of my good friend and Brother R. W. David R. Lucas in 2015. He rallied us to be shining examples for all Masons, to quote, “Be Brilliant”. A decade earlier in 2005, R. W. Brother William E. Holland carefully described the characteristics of various “generations” of Masons past and present, in an effort to enlighten us on the need for better communication between the groups; he asked, ". . . whom are you going to help make great?” And, nearly ten years before that in 1997, R. W. Brother Ralph I. Sewall addressed the great debate of the time, that of the efficacy of the one-day class membership versus that of a traditional degree sequence. He put the onus of this flawed debate squarely where it belongs; on all of us, declaring in his closing statement, “It is up to us to help the new Masons Build a Worthy Temple".
Although each of these beloved brothers unapologetically holds a special place in my heart through our association in Massachusetts Consistory, as do so many other brothers in this room, the message these men affirmed was simple and enduring; - The work is never done. – “Just how will we continue to attract, inspire and retain the next generation of Masons?”
We ask so many questions in our travels through the degrees; Whence came you as a Mason?; Whither are you travelling?; Of what are you in pursuit? and my personal favorite, What do you most desire? All of these questions are meant to illicit deep thought and to create an environment in which the Mason’s heart and mind are duly and truly prepared for contemplation and enlightenment.
And there are many more deep philosophical questions to be pondered along the way, but one, one that seemed so simple, the one that I became stuck on was - Will you be off or from? It appears at first to be a fairly benign question. As a candidate, it was lost in the ritual; it really wasn’t meant for me to answer anyway. At the time, it seemed to be just trifling banter between the Senior Deacon and the Worshipful Master; more like an old Abbott and Costello routine:
Has it a name?
Give it me!
I did not so receive it . . .
How will you dispose of it?
Letter it and begin.
Who’s on first . . .
I don’t know!
Even when I filled those two positions in the line, I never really stopped to contemplate what was actually going on at that moment; the positioning of the grip and trying to remember the correct “secret word” for that degree were the heart of that exchange, I did not appreciate the true scope of the moment; it representing both a figurative and literal “passage”.
Will you be off or from? The question is rhetorical really, because the answer of course is always “from”! But what happens if the Senior Deacon or any brother chooses Off? We of course take a solemn obligation not to make innovations to the body of Freemasonry, but the question does seems to imply that there is a choice. I submit to you that, in reality there is a choice and it’s made more often than we realize Let’s explore that choice as a distressing, yet all too real part of many a Masonic brother’s experience?
Will you be off or from? I believe this exchange conveys both a choice and an opportunity. Each of us must decide if we are moving forward, from a point to a line, from a line to a superfice; and so on . . . All of us here have chosen “from”, we choose to persist; we choose to remain teachable; we know that there is always more to learn, more to experience and therefore more to contribute. You are all indeed “just and upright” men, who honor their obligation to “pass on” these principles to the future generations so skillfully described by Brother Holland. But if a brother makes the alternate choice, what key elements of the “craft” have not resonated? What opportunities have we failed to convey? What are we doing within the length of our cable-tow, to help aid and assist each brother to build their “Worthy Temple”?
In another program I belong to, you often hear the phrase, “You have to give it away to keep it!” This divine paradox clearly demonstrates that the personal and spiritual gain from giving, is one-hundred fold of that of receiving. This is each of our opportunity within the question. Will you actively enrich your own journey with the gift of truly mentoring another Mason, perhaps through committed involvement in the newly formed Deacon’s Academy, or with actively sponsoring two, three, or maybe ten men over the course of time? Will you act as the surety that a brother Mason in your care does not choose “Off” before the miracle happens and they too may become a light to others?
I believe the lessons inherent in the Entered Apprentice degree are perhaps some of the most impactful. We are taught in the first degree that that “Brilliant” point within the circle represents you and me, the individual brother; that the circle represents the boundary line of our duty. That going around the circle we necessarily touch upon the two parallel lines representing Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist, the Saint whom we celebrate here today, and more essentially upon the Book of Holy Scripture.
Let’s consider for a moment our patron for today’s feast, Saint John the Evangelist. He was the youngest of the twelve apostles, and purportedly the only one not to have been martyred; as such he lived a long life and was able to “give testimony” or evangelize the teachings of Jesus for many decades after his savior’s death. John the Apostle, as he is also known, was considered one of the “pillars” of the original Jerusalem church after Jesus’ death. He is additionally credited with authoring the Book of Revelations; one of the two sacred Books, along with the book of Nature, that we reference in the 1st degree lecture as key sources of guidance when building our spiritual temple. It is then no “idle or unmeaning” coincidence that we choose this Saint’s day to evangelize our faith in the fraternity; the ceremony of installation of officers is a testimony of our commitment and renewal.
The Evangelist served his redeemer, his “Master”, with the same attributes with which we are all empowered in the first degree, with Freedom, Fervency and Zeal. My Brothers, we know this is how Freemasons served their Masters in ancient times – the question is, how will we serve our brothers in modern times? Will we continue to safeguard our fraternal bonds; to ensure the choice is more consistently “from” and not “off”?
- Brethren, I ask you to be from Chalk; be resolved to freely leave a trace behind in all of your Masonic endeavors; in your mother lodge, in your affiliations, in your rolls as a sponsor or mentor. Be resolved to “leave your mark” in the hearts and minds of all those with whom you have the privilege to cross paths. The Craft is an inestimable gift from God; freely share it!
- My Friends, I urge you to be from Charcoal; fervently ignite yourself in the Fraternity, spark your personal curiosity and that of others, kindle the fires of inspiration and like our Grand Master, continue to be an obdurate force in the face of all challenges and obstacles; remembering it is “OK” to falter occasionally; it is only with prolonged idleness that we allow the flames of Freemasonry to be extinguished. Fervently set the Craft at work and give them necessary instruction; the fire will grow!
- My Brothers, I implore you to be from Clay; zealously be of service to your families, to your communities and to your fellow man; maintain your malleability, stay teachable and willing to listen and grow so that you can continue to be “constantly employed for man’s use” knowing that it is by the giving that we receive the true gift of God – Love.
In conclusion, it would be disappointing to some, and nearly impossible for me, to complete such an address without at least one gratuitous Grateful Dead reference. I have carefully chosen one of their most beloved songs to weave into this “vast fabric” so that it might “. . . be lain up in the records and archives” for Masonic posterity by R. W. Brother Hunt.
In the song, Ripple, the verse that I believe is apropos reads:
Reach out your hand, if your cup is empty; if you cup is full, may it be again.
Let it be known, there is a fountain that was not made by the hands of men.
My dear brothers, Freemasonry is a God-given fountain; whether you are a new brother, that empty cup waiting to be filled, or you are an experienced Mason, who joyfully discovers the sublime paradox, that the more you give, the more you will receive.
Will you be off or from – I urge you all to continue to choose from; to “Be Brilliant” and to “Follow Reason”; to actively pursue the opportunities within the question, so that you may continue to inspire others in their journeys, and like you and I, find all that they seek in Freemasonry.
Thank you, Brethren. May the Grand Architect of the Universe continue to bless you all, and may He continue to preserve our beloved fraternity.