The Table

“See, I am doing something new!

Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” –Isaiah 43:19

Last Thursday, October 11, was the 50th anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council. That night, I was at Holy Wisdom Monastery, recovering from a red-eye flight from California and preparing for the start of WOC’s fall board meeting– my first meeting as Co-President.

As I sat in my room at the Monastery reading over board reports, that first day of Vatican II kept coming to mind. Historians now see the Second Vatican Council as one of the most significant events of the 20th century– and in the history of the Catholic Church. It can’t be overstated how much Vatican II shaped Catholic views on ecumenical dialogue, lay leadership, women’s equality and the liturgy. However, when Pope John XXIII opened that first session of the Council in 1962 no one could have known exactly how significant it would be– or what those changes would mean for the future of the Church. They had to simply trust in this ‘new thing’ that the Spirit was doing.

50 years later, the spirit of Vatican II can still be felt in the Church. While it might feel like our leaders would like to undo those reforms, the People of God seem determined to keep moving the Church into the future. Once again, it feels like the Holy Spirit is doing a new thing through our Church, this time using women religious, women priests and young adults to lead the way.

Our hosts for the board meeting, the Benedictine Women of Madison, are such a beautiful example of how the Spirit is still doing a new thing in the world. These women’s commitment to the Rule of St. Benedict and the message of the Gospel led them to break ties with the institutional Church, becoming an ecumenical community committed to social justice and care for the Earth. They continue to serve the Body of Christ by running a retreat house, caring for the wilderness surrounding their monastery, and hosting a Sunday Eucharistic community where all are welcome. While their concerns for ecumenical dialogue, women’s leadership and inclusion seem shaped by Vatican II, they are also breaking new ground and re-envisioning what it means to follow Christ in today’s world.

National WOC Board of Directors and Staff

In the Church reform movement, we spend a lot of time talking about closed churches, dwindling membership and failed leaders.  Working on these depressing topics, it’s easy for me to believe that my Church is in crisis. However, after spending a few days living with the Benedictine Sisters, our Church didn’t seem to be in crisis, but in transformation. Like those first participants in Vatican II, the Benedictine Women of Madison may not know what the Church is transforming into, but they know that the Spirit is calling them to follow Her into the future.

Reflecting on the start of the Second Vatican Council and surrounded by the beauty of Holy Wisdom Monastery, I was so grateful for the ways that the Spirit is moving in our Church, and in WOC. In addition to being Johanna Hatch and my first board meeting as Co-Presidents, it was also the first meeting for five new board members. Throughout the weekend, I was constantly grateful for the new energy, skills and wisdom that these five women bring to our board, just as I am grateful for our foremothers at WOC, who have lead the way for women’s equality in the Catholic Church.

Like the Catholic Church and Holy Wisdom, it seems that WOC is at the start of a great adventure. I can’t wait to see how the Spirit will continue to use us in the next 50 years.


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