A month ago a certain important friar gave a short homily on a certain important occasion. I heard it myself. A few weeks later I was given the brother's text to make a translation into English that could be published within the Order. This written text, of course, was not exactly the same thing as the homily I heard when it was given. There's nothing strange about that; when I was a parish priest I would always write out my Sunday homilies, but mainly just to consider structure and length; the homily I would actually deliver on Sunday (without my text) would be more or less the same thing, but not exactly.
Since then, for other purposes, I have twice been given parts of this same homily to translate, quotes which presumably derived from someone else's hearing and/or transcription, because they didn't match the written text I had previously seen. Nor did these other transcribed sections match up exactly to my own memory of the homily I had originally heard, though the idea was more or less the same. More or less.
Again, this homily happened only about a month ago. And it has passed through just my experience in four variations, three of which are doubled by translation into another language. So what was really said? And what does such a question mean? What assertions, hopes and grievances are embedded in the question?
And what if we were talking about a homily given two thousand years ago?
It reminds me of one of my favorite teachers at Weston Jesuit, when she was talking about the 'quest for the historical Jesus.'
"My siblings and I can't even agree on the historical grandma Mooney."