Brother James J. Knights was raised to the sublime degree of a Master Mason in Harmony Lodge No 429, Zelienople, PA, in 1999, currently handling public relations matters for the 26th Masonic District of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania. In his previous life, he was an FBI Special Agent, whose assignments included violent crimes and fugitives, property crimes, civil rights investigations, and foreign counterintelligence. As such, he was a surveillance pilot, SWAT sniper, media representative, and worked in the FBI’s technical investigations program. Additionally, he has volunteered as a Civil Air Patrol pilot, squadron commander and public information officer. He is an emeritus member (fourteen years) of the Imperial Public Relations Committee of Shriners International and Shriners Hospitals for Children. A native of New England, he resides in southwestern Pennsylvania with his wife and honeybees.
During his career, Bro. Knights authored several published articles on law enforcement recruiting. Now in his retirement, he has authored an historical fiction trilogy called Benjamin’s Field (published April 2015), under the name J. J. Knights. The Benjamin’s Field trilogy follows a family over the course of sixty years through war, peace, triumph, tragedy, heartbreak, and final happiness from the viewpoint of its youngest member, Jeremy Kyner.
More a philosophical treatment of the human condition than a mere fictional story, the Benjamin’s Field trilogy is an interwoven tapestry of parables that explore various aspects of human existence, such as the role of family loyalty versus individual need, personal liberty and how it relates to society’s demands, religious prejudice, racism, intolerance, the role of charity, and the overwhelming need for humans to forgive one another. Part of the story seeks to explain the realities of Freemasonry to those who unwittingly view the fraternity through the lens of sensationalist authors.
Below is the second excerpt from the first book of the trilogy, Benjamin’s Field: Rescue. The first excerpt is here. For those who would like to read more, the book is available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon. Reviews of the story are available there or at Goodreads.
Looking Benjamin squarely in the eye, Templeman began. “In addition to the Masonic tenet that men of any religion may join, Humanum Genus specifically condemned Freemasonry for supporting the concepts that civil law should be uninfluenced by Catholicism and governments should be formed without regard to the Church; that children should receive secular educations without the influence of religion; that rulers govern only with the consent of the governed and that that consent can be rescinded by the people; and people have complete equality in civil matters and are, in fact, equal in all ways.”
Benjamin unfolded his arms and put his hands in the rear pockets of his overalls. He turned and took a few steps away from Templeman, then turned and faced him. The look on his face wasn’t one of anger or suspicion, but of perplexity.
“The pope, or the Church, has accused us, as Freemasons, of believing in equality, separation of church and state, the secular education of children, and government controlled by the governed. Is that really what you just said?
“Pope Leo XIII did so in his encyclical, yes.”
“And the Church still abides by all that?”
“Yes, Ben. The encyclical is still in force.”
Benjamin’s eyes narrowed as he looked at Templeman. Then, in a low voice devoid of anger but laden with accusation, he said, “But those ideas helped form the very bedrock of American liberty laid down by the founding fathers. Men like Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Adams and Washington. Those ideas are some of the foundation stones of our way of life.”
“Ben, two of the men you mentioned were Freemasons.”
“I know. At least nine of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were Freemasons. It could be there were more, which is most likely how those anti-Catholic ideas of ‘separation of church and state’ and ‘all men are created equal’ got into the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.”
“Benjamin, those ideas were the ideas of the founding fathers. They weren’t the ideas of the Roman Catholic Church. They were their ideas, not ours.”
Benjamin looked perplexed. He repeated the priest’s words.
“Theirs. Not ours. You mean to say they’re not your ideas, the Catholic Church’s ideas?”
“As I recall, Father, God was mentioned in the very first sentence of the Declaration of Independence that was signed by those Freemasons and I believe it also said our rights are endowed by our Creator.”
“I don’t see what that has to do with the Church’s position on Freemasonry, Ben.”
“You said those ideas aren’t Catholic, they’re Masonic. But they’re also American. Every school child learns them during his or her secular education. And by the way, keeping your Church out of public school isn’t the same thing as keeping God out of school. No one’s doing that. No one’s keeping God out of school. The very ideals you and your Church criticize are part of our Constitution. Sure, many of our founding fathers were Freemasons. Maybe back then the freedoms we have today were too revolutionary. Maybe those men did use their influence and their skills as Masons to cement those freedoms into the foundation of American liberty. If that was the case, then thank God they did. Remember, Father, the purpose of the Constitution is to keep Pandora’s box closed.”
“I think you’re stretching the facts, Ben.”
“Do you? It’s sort of funny when you think about it, Father. You can sit here and run your Church as you like and criticize our rights and freedoms without fear of retribution from the government, while also slandering the very organization that helped guarantee you have the very freedoms you condemn. How would someone describe that? What’s the word I’m looking for? Ironic? Is that it? Yes. I think this is all very ironic.”
Templeman thought, I hope you’re finished waving the flag in my face.
“I didn’t realize you were so well versed in history, Ben.”
“I read about it, Father. Maybe you should, too. It’s not complicated. Delina taught Francis about being Catholic, but she wasn’t raised here. I taught him – and her – about being Americans. Are you an American, Father?”
Templeman sighed audibly, no longer caring if he offended Benjamin.
“Yes, of course. However, Ben, I’m a Catholic first. A person’s first allegiance is to God, not man – not to a secular nation.”
“How in God’s name can you be both after what you’ve just told me?”
“Well, Ben, so far, it’s worked.”
“Maybe that’s because you’ve never been tested. If that day ever comes, then it’ll be your turn to choose between your country and your Church.”
“I can’t imagine that happening, Ben, but if it does, there would be no question which I’d chose. Think about it.”
A slight smile crossed Benjamin’s features.
“Oh, of course. I guess I forgot. The very country whose concepts of equality and freedom you condemn also protects your right to condemn them. We call that freedom of speech.”
Now it was Templeman’s turn to remain silent.
Well, Ben, aren’t you the self-righteous secularist?
The look on Benjamin’s face didn’t change, but he put his hands behind his back and looked at Templeman. Benjamin took just a few steps toward the priest. In a calm and even voice, he spoke. “But, yes, Father Templeman, I’ll think about it. I’ll think about how I stood in a House of God, in the Church of my dead wife’s faith, the faith in which my son was baptized, and listened to a priest of that faith condemn the American ideals of equality and freedom laid down by our founding fathers.”
Benjamin’s speech was so calm and deliberate that Templeman was unnerved. He actually wished Benjamin would start bellowing at him. He knew how to handle that, but not this.
“Just a minute, please, Father. I have a serious question.”
Templeman bit his tongue – almost literally. It seemed to him the farmer was intentionally refusing to anger, as though he was taunting him.
“Go ahead, Ben.”
“I was just wondering, since you and your fellow priests seem to know more about my organization than I do….”
“Yes?” Templeman interrupted with impatience.
Remaining calm, Benjamin said, “You know, Father, Delina loved the Church. She really did. But there was something that troubled her. Something she couldn’t understand about the Church she loved so much.”
Templeman said nothing as he tried to imagine what was coming.
“Father,” Benjamin continued, “isn’t it true the Holy Roman Catholic Church caused Catholics – its own people – to be tortured and burned at the stake? Weren’t Jews and Muslims forced to convert, and then tortured because pope didn’t believe them? Weren’t they tortured until they ‘confessed?’ And how many Jews were burned because they refused to convert? Wasn’t that what they call ‘The Inquisition?’ Oh, wait. There was more than just one inquisition, wasn’t there? Oh, sure, it was all a long time ago. Maybe the Church has forgotten about the whole thing. You see, Father, I’m not very smart, but Delina was. I learned a lot from that little French Canadian about her religion. All I had to do was listen to her while she taught Francis.”
“How dare you…” Templeman stood.
“How dare I? How dare I what? I only asked a question.” Benjamin raised his voice, but only slightly. His question actually sounded sincere, not accusatory, which Templeman knew it was.
“I’ve had to sit here in this Catholic Church and listen to you parrot your pope about the imaginary heresies of one of the finest organizations that ever existed. One so excellent and so well considered that other groups, including your own Knights of Columbus, have copied it. The fact is, Templeman, no matter what lies you spin about Freemasons, thousands upon thousands of people were never murdered and tortured in the name of Freemasonry. No, never. If you want to point the finger of blame for being heretical, Templeman, look in the mirror! How many of the faithful has your own beloved Church tortured and burned to death or banished into exile? I don’t care how long ago it happened. The point is we never did anything like that, but you did and you have the hypocritical gall to accuse us of heresy because we believe in separation of church and state and providing children with a public education and government of and by the people? The Catholic popes condoned the torture and murder of Catholics, Templeman, how anti-Catholic is that? Jesus Christ!
“You have no right to come into my Church….”
“Your Church, Father? Isn’t this God’s House?”
Now Templeman shouted. “You’ve twisted the facts! The Church never tortured or burned anyone!”
“Maybe not, but the Church caused it to be done! Your popes and cardinals and bishopsknew what would happen to the accused, and they let it happen!
Templeman exerted a huge effort to regain control.
“Again, you’re misrepresenting the facts! Every organization has a few bad people. Christ warned of that very threat. The Church is no different, but the foundation of the Church is indestructible and pure!”
Benjamin said nothing. The two men looked at each other in tense silence for a moment.
“Do you understand what all of this truly means, Father? It means that we – the Catholic Church and Freemasonry – will never resolve our differences. I should say the Church will never resolve its differences with Freemasonry. I’ve said it before and I’ll stick by it: We have no problem with the Roman Catholic Church. It’s sad, really. There will never be a reconciliation.”
Templeman, finally calming down, sat down in the pew and replied, “No, Ben. There won’t be.”
“Because, Father, the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t want a reconciliation. The Church is happy with things just as they are.”
Benjamin stared at Templeman. He didn’t know what to expect next. For a brief moment, he thought Benjamin might actually spit in his face. Templeman started to rise, but stopped when Benjamin put up his hand, palm out.
“All of this wrangling and fighting won’t help. It won’t change anything. I’ve come here for answers and you’ve told me what I need to know, just not in the way you thought you would. I suppose I should be grateful.”
“What in God’s name are you talking about?”
“I’m a farmer. I know crops need both sunlight and rain. Good days and bad. There can’t be good without bad, can there, Father? Just as there can’t be day without night or white without black. The Church needs Freemasonry to be the enemy. You paint us as anti-Catholic and anti-pope so you’ll look ‘white’ compared to our ‘black.’ You need us to be the devil so you can play the saint. The Church can never allow Catholic men to become Freemasons because that would prove there can be reconciliation, then you’d have to find someone else to play the devil.”
“I bet you think you’re brilliant for coming up with that idiotic theory.”
“No, Father. I’m not brilliant. Far from it. But I do know Freemasonry doesn’t attack the Catholic Church. It’s the Catholic Church that attacks Freemasonry. Freemasonry can exist with or without the Church, but the opposite isn’t true, is it, Father? I guess I was right about the Church being ignorant and prejudiced. If you didn’t have us, you’d be forced to find someone else to accuse of heresy.”
“That’s absolute nonsense, and you know it is.”
“What I know, Father Templeman, is it’s now clear to me why Catholic Churches always have a statue of Christ nailed to the cross hanging high over the altar. It’s so He can look down on you.”
Templeman rose out of the pew. His face was burning red. His eyes were wide. As he began to speak, he sprayed spittle into Benjamin’s face, causing him to step backwards and wipe it away with his sleeve. Templeman jabbed his finger toward Saint Mary’s doorway.
“Get out! Damn you! Get out of this church!”
“Damn me, Father? Did you just say that? I don’t believe you have that authority. Maybe you’re the one who should be damned.”
Benjamin turned toward the door and walked with a straight back and determined gate out into the sunlight. The double doors banged closed with a loud echo that resonated throughout the small, empty, church. Empty, save for one person.
I have never in my life thrown anyone out of a church. My God! What in the name of Christ just happened? That man took control in my own church. What’s wrong with me?
In the darkened sanctuary, among flickering candles, Templeman, breathing hard, took out a handkerchief and wiped the perspiration from his forehead. As he did, he happened to turn toward the altar. Catching sight of the crucifix, he looked up. There, above him, hung a figure forever nailed to the cross. To Templeman, Christ appeared to be looking directly at him, His sad eyes filled with accusation.
Thank you Bro. J. J. Knights for you contribution this week!
If you would like to be the next contributor, send me an email. I hope you will.