“What’s the difference between chili con carne and chili con queso?” I ask my freshman students. “One is chili with meat, the other is chili with cheese,” they reply, wanting to know why the hell I would ask this stupid question with an obvious answer in the middle of a class on the Gospel of Luke. As I often do, I give them a quick lesson in etymology (because, as I have told them many times, words are cool). “The Latin word ‘carnis’ means ‘meat,’” I tell them. “It’s where we get ‘carnal,’ ‘carnivore,’ ‘carnage’ and similar words from. Oh, and it’s also where we get ‘incarnation.’”
That grabs their attention. Most of my students are products of Catholic families and education, for whom the word “incarnation” is a sanitized church word used as a placeholder for the birth of Jesus. But what the doctrine of the Incarnation really means is something astounding and shocking. In becoming human, God chose to “become meat.” And God still does.
The complete version of this essay was published last Wednesday by Bearings Online, a publication of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research in Collegeville, Minnesota. Here’s the link–enjoy!