Just got word a couple of days ago. A priest named Sean Rowe has been elected to the episcopate in the Diocese of Northwest Pennsylvania. Not too remarkable, but for the fact that he is only 32 years old. Good on him! When I heard about his election, I went and checked out his profile on that diocese's website. Have to say that I think that he stands out in a major way from the field of candidates.
My hope is that this is a beginning of a sea change for the Church, not so much that we are stepping out of, and away from, the idea that somebody has to be middle-aged to be a bishop; but that the old molds of expectation of what a bishop-to-be looks, sounds and acts like is changing. Bishops don't have to be male, willing to embrace their "terminal call" after a "long and illustrious career in parish ministry" in which they "distinguish themselves in demonstrating leadership skills beyond the parish." Honestly, I once worked for one of those guys...and am fast on my way to becoming one myself...and it doesn't make me a better candidate than Fr. Sean is/was. And, I am sure, he will make a much better bishop than most of us.
What gives me hope is that the idea that becoming a bishop as some sort of promotion to glory is beginning to die. The episcopate carries with it a great deal of prestige, mostly, I think, because there aren't really that many of them...but one could have made the same case in the last century as the population of dodos faded into oblivion. I am sure more than a few Victorian caricaturists made sport of that idea. Scarcity does not imply preciousness. Nor does it create anything more than a run on the market, usually. Take a look at gas prices...and so the question escalates...who is willing to pay over $4 a gallon for bishops?
So, the prayer is a simple one...may God guide us in seeking and discerning leadership for the Church and its dioceses based on call, skill, grace and excellence. Notice, please, I am setting aside experience. To assume that is to simply affirm the idea that this generation's grey beards are better than the ones-that-will-be.
Sure, we all want the person in the pointy hat to "look like a bishop." But that can, and should, mean a lot of things. Male or female, big or small, old or young...the major factor is and should be that the person is called to the role, right?
I think this is a bit of a shout out to some friends who are discerning a call to the episcopate right now: relax and enjoy the ride. The point of this process is not to get elected, the more I think about it. It is about being willing to offer up your life and work to God and to the Church...in two very different ways. To God, we say: "Here I am, Lord." and to the Church we say, "I am willing to open myself up to what may come, come what may." Both create stunning vulnerability and require great maturity in order to survive the inevitable storms of controversy that surround even the candidates for election...much less the consecrated.
The great good thing is that no matter what, Sean+'s election proves that you don't need to be old to have to embrace being a rookie all over again. My prayer is that he has the energy and grace to move through the next few months confident of a God who loves him and a Church that supports his candidacy and consecration