There is much adulation for the move on the part of the Holy See to elevate Companion of the Cross, Fr. Christian Riesbeck to the dignity and office of Bishop. The elevation is of particular note, not only because Bishop Riesbeck is the first of the Companions to take on such a role within the Universal Church, but also because the Bishop is, well, young.
To give you some perspective, Bishop Riesbeck is currently forty four years old, making him one of the youngest Bishops in the world, and in Canada, the second youngest. Bishop Vincent Nguyen, Auxiliary Bishop of Toronto is three years older than Riesbeck, and Bishop Thomas Dowd, Auxiliary Bishop of Montreal is seven months younger. So while it seems the elevation of so young a priest is not the norm, Fr. Riesbeck’s elevation is certainly not unheard of. And when you add to this his very strong reputation as a humble man of God, his elevation seems all the more appropriate.
Interestingly though, in my small circle of Catholic Land, Bishop Riesbeck’s new position within the Universal Church has sparked a conversation that is older than any of the participants. It is, to be blunt, a deep seated mistrust of the young, a raised eyebrow at the possibility that someone younger than most should take on a position of greater responsibility in the community.
I have been a participant in far too many conversations of this kind. In such discussions, one’s age is seen as the primary or overly contributing cause in vocational disappointment. The couple divorced because, well, they got married too young you see, and He left the priesthood because of course, he was ordained far too early on and should have received more life experience. My wife and I encountered this kind of reaction as well, when we, at the tender ages of twenty two and twenty three respectively, made vows to one another that would change our lives. We had so much against us we were told, because, well, we were still so young.
The best response to this is obviously the lives of the saints themselves. Surely, if it were only the ageing process that made brutes into saints there would be very little to write about. To find sanctity as a rule, we should not look at the elderly but the energetic, not at the experienced and calculating but at the fearing and faithful. When we confuse these, we tend to make some pretty alarming judgements. As Bishop Fulton Sheen commented when discussing the age of St. Joseph, he said,
Somehow, the assumption had crept in that senility was a better protector of virginity than adolescence. Art thus unconsciously made Joseph a spouse chaste and pure by age rather than by virtue.
I think he was right. We tend only to expect the best virtues out of the elderly, when the passions have slowed and life has made us calmer. But please, God can make saints out of children and He can bring heroes out of the most unexpected places.
So thank God for Bishop Riesbeck. May he bring the vitality and passion of the young to a Church that desperately needs heroic bishops.
Check out Patrick and his ministry – evango – at https://evango.net/