Author: David Cloutier

1st Sunday of Advent: How Long Must We Wander?

Readings: Isaiah 63:16-19, 64:2-7; Psalm 80; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37 This week’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah recalled one of my best early memories of Church music. Father John Foley’s Redeemer Lord bases its haunting verses on this plaintive cry of the prophet, simultaneously lamenting God’s absence and yet trusting in God’s deliverance. Foley captures this dynamic unusually well by pairing the dramatic verses – I remember the phrase “sunder the heavens” stuck in me with enormous power – with a quite different refrain that with the relentless power of a mantra responds to the lament with the assurance of Psalm 23. As we enter the Advent season, this song of my youth points us to two things that might fittingly start our Advent journey. One is the moral importance of precisely things like this. I haven’t heard that song in many years, but I had no problem knowing every word, nor could I avoid the chills as I listened to the YouTube video. And so there is a way in which I really can’t imagine the formation of my whole Catholic identity without that song, and the community of my contemporary choir that “gave” it to me. I am certain some would listen to the song and roll their eyes at its obvious gestures toward ‘70’s folk music or musicals. Let me just say in reply:...

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Of Tax Plans and Honesty

Just about everything is wrong with the outline for tax reform offered by the Republicans. And it is wrong not simply for debatable reasons. A lot of it is flat-out lying. The truth about this overall proposal is that: (1) it is based on a non-evidence-based connection between taxation and economic growth, especially suspicious at a time when the American economy is actually relatively strong (albeit not for everyone) and (2) it will deliver a substantial tax cut almost exclusively to the very wealthy, while socking plenty of Americans in the middle with what could amount to a severe...

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What We Normalize

The bounds of “normal” behavior are funny things. They are pervasive, and it is unimaginable to have a shared culture without them. Yet we all know that they shift over time. We can have passionate arguments over whether this or that shift is “progress” or “decline.” I tend to lean on the side of flexibility: maybe teaching helps this, since every year I get one year older, but I face a set of students in their seats who are ever-fixed in their 18-22-ness. Norms shift. Get too fixated on that shifting, and it can be bad. But to say...

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24th Sunday: Escaping the World of Anger

“Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.” – Sirach 27:30 “Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. ” – Matthew 18:34 Forgiveness is the opposite of wrath and anger… or at least of “hugging them tight.” If we live in a time filled with anger, where people feel justified in visiting wrath upon each other, we should ask ourselves more deeply what the root problem is. The problem is often a sense of an utterly righteous cause. These other people owe a...

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Impasse on the Left

Mark Lilla’s much-discussed new book, The Once and Future Liberal, while not a work in Christian social ethics, nevertheless is a crucial touchstone for deep ethical debates about our present society. Beverly Gage’s New York Times review of Lilla’s book is quite instructive in displaying these challenges. I don’t intend to take sides here, in part because we are dealing with a discussion where the authors involved have substantial agreement about overarching challenges. To a significant degree, they agree about ends; their differences are about means, but not merely instrumental means. There are implied arguments about social morality intrinsic...

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