The following message was delivered at Mt. Verstovia Lodge No. 18 in Sitka, AK on March 11, 2009.
Freemasonry has been described as a "Secret Society", and depending on who is describing us, the definitions range from calling us a group that is inanely silly to one which is excessively powerful. Some conspiracy theorists believe we are focused on world domination, while others believe that we worship Lucifer. The plain truth is that Freemasonry is a fraternity or brotherhood of men who associate for a mutually beneficial purpose and that purpose is for the moral development of each individual member. Character development begins through a series of ritual lessons or degrees. While we consider these ritual degrees private, they are not very secret, and are readily available to anyone with access to the internet or who may have a library card.
What Masons refer to as their true secrets are the signs, grips, and words they learn during the progression through the degrees and that they use to identify each other as Masons. I would submit, however, that the signs, grips, and words are not the secrets at all, but are the keys to unlock the true secrets of Freemasonry.
In the First Degree lecture, Masons learn that “Freemasonry is a System of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols.” Within the Lodge, the candidates progress through a course of symbolic and moral instruction through the ritual presentation of the degrees. Additionally, as a minimum requirement, each candidate has to demonstrate proficiency in the lessons of the degrees by parroting back some of those lessons through a process of rote memorization and recitation. I say “as a minimum” because the lessons of Freemasonry do not end with the completion of the 3rd degree. That is only beginning. Freemasonry is a life-long journey of self discovery, a journey of spiritual and intellectual growth. And, along the way the inquisitive Mason makes new and exciting discoveries about his relationship with God, his fellow man, and himself.
The signs, grips, and words grant a Mason access to the Lodge, where he can begin to discover that there are many aspects to the organization of Freemasonry. These aspects can be divided into three main categories—philosophical, historical, and organizational. The philosophical aspect of Freemasonry introduces the student to the profound subjects of initiation, symbolism and tradition, and their potential to impact his life for the better. The historical aspect teaches the student how the traditions and teachings that make up Masonry came to be, their central role in the spiritual search of mankind and the way Masonry has affected the world since its emergence. The organizational aspect helps the student understand how the organization is governed and perpetuated, and provides many opportunities for the development of leadership skills and personal responsibility.
This process of spiritual and intellectual growth is called “Masonic Formation” and refers to the overall intellectual and moral development of the Freemason. The goal is to be able to translate the lessons and experiences that one gains from Masonry into one’s daily actions. Freemasonry, if approached with humility, an open heart and an open mind will make one a gentleman, a better family man, and a better citizen.
By learning the signs, grips, and words, the door to the world of Freemasonry is opened to the student. An opportunity to begin a process of self development now lies before him. But he cannot learn the secrets of Freemasonry by remaining in the doorway. The good student must step through that door and enter into the world of Masonic Formation.
 Masonic Restoration Foundation. (2008) Masonic Formation. Found at: http://www.masonicrestoration.com/formation.html