The goal of FutureChurch to “rediscover Mary’s message for today” is a beacon I’ve been following for the past 30 years. Born in an era of intense Marian devotion, I grew up with pallid, perfect images of Mary in statues and paintings, along with exhortations to imitate her silence, humility, and acquiescence. As a child, I felt that Mary was a little unreal, too good to be true—and certainly someone whose perfection I could never achieve.
Later on, I thought that maybe Vatican II would bring Mary into a more accessible perspective, but although it declared her the “Mother of the Church,” it also reduced her titles and roles; edited her out of the Mass except for a mention in the Nicene Creed; and eliminated many Marian prayers. I joined the many people, who, like Charlene Spretnak, claimed to be “Missing Mary.”
My rediscovery of Mary came through my work in French medieval studies, as I read the stories told about her during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The authors of these miracle tales show her to be familiarly winsome and enormously powerful, a partner with God in the work of salvation. I also found that this Mary has a message for today: after the terms of a research grant required that I share my findings with a nonscholarly audience, I translated some of the stories, donned a medieval costume, and began telling the tales of her love and compassion, admonishment and support, demands and rewards. Protestants and Catholics, men and women, responded warmly, often emotionally, to the idea of Mary as a strong, capable, wise and affectionate mother—one who never stops looking after her children, even the most wayward.
The enthusiastic reception of those medieval miracle stories motivated me to translate others for a collection which I call “Mother Most Powerful.” Also, wondering where and when the medieval works originated, I delved deeper into the past, finding evidence of a Marian tradition that dates back to the second century.
While researching these early traditions, I met Deb Rose-Milavec, who invited me to participate in the Mary project. It has been a privilege and a delight to collaborate with FutureChurch in preparing resources on Mary, her history in Scripture, church doctrine and tradition. Mary Christine Athans’s historical essays on Mary through the ages situate her in time and space. Jeannette Rodriguez brings Our Lady of Guadalupe into intimate and poetic focus. Elizabeth Johnson’s presentation, “Will the Real Mary Please Stand Up?” summarizes what we need most to know and acknowledge: Not only is Miriam of Nazareth the redoubtable mother of God, she is a first-century Jewish woman of faith, the “passionate, proud, enthusiastic” proclaimer of the Magnificat and the assertive disciple who told her son confidently, “They have no more wine.”
This is the Mary, whose stories I treasure. This is the reason I find such pleasure working on this project.