Life of a disobedient prophet

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– From Alphonsian Academy blog –

Don Lorenzo Milani, was born and died in Florence, 27-05-1923; 26-06-1967. A hundred years after his birth, it is worth remembering this brother on the road. It is these examples, as well as others, that the Spirit arouses in history, that continue to give credibility to the Christian life when it becomes the incarnated GospelA credible life because he knew how to listen and respond to the reality that the changes in his own life demanded and to the transformations in the lives of others, especially children and young people, and of a Church and society that needed prophetic gestures and words to realise that there are always alternatives, other ways and lifestyles that humanise us and free us from constant slavery, whether explicit or hidden. We remember the anniversary of his birth without forgetting that due to a serious illness, Hodgkin’s disease, from which he had been suffering for years, Don Lorenzo died at only 44 years of age.

It would suffice to see the concrete lives that his testimony generated, so many testimonies that are still heard today; his gestures and words conveyed in his works, and in a good number of his writings and others that remember him; the films made in his memory, to understand their significance. Theology, especially moral theology, should find in these life testimonies the existential key to how to realise life according to the Gospel, always declined in the present indicative and with the imperative force of love that gives itself without measure. Not looking for ideal and evanescent expressions of an abstract and universal gospel that fits everyone and every situation. No, it is not about that. Rather, it is about a gospel embodied in the reality of a person and his or her world of relationships, with its lights and shadows, its successes and failures, where everything is part of learning and a life that prides itself on being so. We do not remember him because he did everything ‘perfectly’, being a ‘pure’ example of evangelical ‘radicality’. We remember him because his life smells of the Gospel made life on the road of life because his science is not lofty, but because everything smells of the prophetic wisdom of a life that takes on the clamour and makes itself heard without affectation or excessive bourgeois scruples.

People like Don Lorenzo remind us of the need to believe in others, especially young people, and that it is possible to generate life alternatives. This is what the Christian life must always strive for. It is nice to see these days here in Italy the presence of young volunteers helping in the areas of Emilia-Romagna affected by the flood. This was and is possible when one gives the word and gives all people the chance to be such, an integral education, which envisages and prepares for expressive communication by favouring interrelation. This was what Don Milani wanted and did as a revolutionary proposal. A proposal that not a few already in his day saw as a poor laboratory with no future, an improvisation with no guarantee of evolution. His motto and his inspiration could be summed up in that phrase he apparently put in one of the schools: ‘I care’, that is, it concerns me, I take care. I take charge of reality because it ‘concerns me’, I let myself be questioned, and I ask questions, I let myself be challenged, and I challenge, I let myself be transformed, and I transform. This inspiration and its consequent dynamics are a good key to moral theology; of this, there is no doubt. We conclude this grateful and challenging remembrance with a few of his phrases:

“If you have the right to divide the world into Italians and foreigners, I have no homeland, and I claim the right to divide the world into dispossessed and oppressed on the one hand, privileged and oppressors on the other. The former are my homeland, the latter my foreigners’.

“[The last words of his will for his boys] I loved you more than God, but I have the hope that he does not pay attention to these subtleties and has written everything down to his account.”

“Have the courage to tell young people that they are all sovereign, that obedience is no longer a virtue, but the most insidious of temptations, that they do not believe they can shield themselves from it either before men or before God, that they must each feel solely responsible for everything”.

“The day we break through the gate of some park together, set up the poor man’s house in the rich man’s palace, remember Pipetta, that day I will betray you, that day I will finally be able to sing the victory worthy of a priest of Christ: Blessed are the poor for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. That day I shall not stay with you, I shall return to your wet and smelly little house to pray for you before my crucified Lord’ (Letter to Pipetta, 1950).

Finally, a comment from Pope Francis: “His restlessness, however, was not the fruit of rebellion but of love and tenderness for his children, for what was his flock, for which he suffered and fought, to give them the dignity that was sometimes denied them. His was a spiritual restlessness fuelled by love for Christ, for the Gospel, for the Church, for society and for the school that he dreamt of as a field hospital to help the wounded, to recover the marginalised and the discarded [Videomessage sent on 23 April 2017 on the occasion of the presentation of Don Milani’s Opera Omnia].

Fr. Antonio Gerardo Fidalgo C.Ss.R

(The original is in Italian)


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