Author: David Cloutier

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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20th Sunday: A House of Prayer for ALL Peoples

Is 56:1, 6-7; Ps 67; Rm 11:13-15, 29-32; Mt 15:21-28 Today’s Gospel tend to tie interpreters up in knots. For some, there is the scandal of what looks like Jesus “changing his mind.” It looks like he gets it wrong at first. So some elaborate explanation must be constructed. One homily I heard tries to make it out that Jesus is testing the woman’s faith. It’s all a ruse, to see if she really believes in him. This doesn’t seem very plausible. For others, the reading is troubling because it seems to present a Jesus offering a feeble attempt...

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19th Sunday in Ordinary Time: God is Not in the Storms

Readings: 1 Kgs 19, Rm 9:1-5, Mt 14:22-33 We live in stormy times. Often enough in the Bible, when God appears, it is with flashes of lightning and roars of thunder. When God appears to Moses at Mount Horeb, these are the great signs of appearance. Analogously, when we live amidst great and calamitous events, we are apt to search for God in them. But this week’s readings suggest an alternative: sometimes God is not in the storms, but in the calm and quiet. The lectionary this week omits some crucial context for the story of Elijah in the...

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