So everyone knows that I’m heading to Italy to attend (and concelebrate) the Mass of canonization of John Henry Cardinal Newman.  What could be better than taking (a very small!) active part in the honoring of my own personal spiritual and theological hero?  Actually, quite a bit…

          As is my custom, when I go to Italy by myself my primary stop is always Assisi.  And it turns out that just a couple of days earlier than my arrival (Friday, 4 October) is the feast of St Francis of Assisi! 

          What will I do when I get there?  My “typical” run involves Mass at the Basilica where he is buried, Mass at the Porziuncola where he died, and Evening Prayer/Adoration in San Damiano, where he prayed so fervently for guidance.  But of course this time there’ll be more.

          My dear friends in Italy have another dear friend from the States who will be leading a pilgrimage group at this time, and so I’ll be able to concelebrate Mass with them on Wednesday, 9 October, in the chapel of the Crucifix through which Francis heard the call to become the saint he is today. 

          It will also be the middle of the “40 Days For Life” campaign in Mobile, and I will be offering that Mass explicitly for the success of ALL pro-life activities in our country:  protection for the unborn, respect for the elderly and terminally ill, recognition of the dignity of migrants and refugees at our borders, and so on.  And yes—there’ll be more.

          That day will be 9 October—the anniversary (back in 1845) of Newman’s conversion to the Catholic Church.  If my buddy from college days, Bill Johnston, will be flying in to join me in Rome on that day, I’ll be rejoicing at the altar in Santa Chiara in a very special way.  And yes, again—there’ll be more.

          That Wednesday is also Yom Kippur, the great Jewish Day of Atonement.  It is, if you like, a one-day Jewish “Lent.”  And I will be remembering in prayer my friends who are (in the words of Pope St John Paul II) “our elder brothers and sisters in faith.”  Why do they have one day of repentance while we have 40?  “Because we have more to repent of,” I usually reply.

          Newman spoke about reason and faith and the fact that reasoning can take us so far, but no further.  His analogy was something like spokes on a wheel that didn’t quite connect with the axle but all pointed in that direction.  And so he referred to evidences as offering “converging probabilities” that stand in for certainty in the Faith.  It’s what makes an act of faith a reasonable thing, even if not a provable thing.  My days will be filled with unexpected (and “unreasonable”) convergences, from Francis to Newman to Jewish feasts to respect for all life.  And this is why we so often refer to God as “the God of surprises.”  You’d almost think Someone was in charge, wouldn’t you??