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Author, Priest, PoetDecember 15, Third Sunday in Advent
Catholic Homilies
December 15th, 2002

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Third Sunday in Advent


The Church keeps alive today the ancient dialogue with the disciples of John the Baptist. The latter said that since their master baptized Jesus, they were superior to the followers of Jesus. The debate was a little besides the point then and is even more irrelevant today. Jesus was the most powerful person ever to appear in human history. Since his time men and women have gone to the ends of the earth to preach about how absolutely unique he is. He appears very powerfully in Islam, and even here is still unmistakably Jesus. He's also as elusive as ever, never quite fitting into our preferred paradigms. Once you think you have Jesus all sewed up for your side, you may have an interesting person with whom to beat others over the head. Only it isn't Jesus.

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Once upon a time a certain scholar went to western china to visit an old pagoda, maybe fifteen hundred years old, which he believed had once been part of a Christian monastery back in the time when many of the Chinese were Christians, as were all the people along the famous silk road. Indeed, he said to others, for four hundred years, Christianity was stronger in Persia, and northern India and Pakistan and China and among the Ughers and the White Huns and the Mongols than it was in Western Europe. It is all gone now, save for some very unusual remnants, like the Buddhist goddess Guanying, the only one they have, a goddess of compassion and tenderness who looks exactly like the mother of Jesus. Anyway he and his friends finally found the pagoda. The local people said it was the remains of a monastery from the Tang Dynasty. We thought it might have been a Christian monastery once, the scholar said sadly. Oh, the locals said, everyone knows that's true. About fifteen hundred years! ago, there were many Christian monks here and a big monastery all around the pagoda. So they went inside the pagoda and climbed around. In one of the upper floors they found a door. The scholar was terrified of heights, but they pushed open the door. And do you know what they found - the crib scene! Fifteen hundred years old, long, long before St. Francis started the crib custom in Europe.

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And do you know what they found - the crib scene! Fifteen hundred years old, long, long before St. Francis started the crib custom in Europe.
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