It is that time of year. My husband and I have been invited to attend the annual auction for our sons’ school. Tickets to the gala evening, which includes dinner and dancing in addition to bidding, are $300 per couple. In advance of the auction, we are invited to contribute to baskets sponsored by each son’s class; one class’ theme is golf, the other is Mexican. For one son’s sports’ team, we have been invited to a gift gathering party. The invite reminds us that our team traditionally offers the auction’s largest gift.
At the auction itself, we would have the opportunity to bid on a range of items, including weeks at vacation homes, restaurant dinners, antiques, tickets to sporting events, prime spots in the school parking lot, or perhaps the opportunity for our child to be principal for the day. The auctioneer would encourage us to open our pockets for the kids, hoping that as the evening goes on attendees will, perhaps, give more than they intended to give when they arrived.
My husband and I can’t afford the tickets to this event or the items offered for sale. We could, however, volunteer to work at the auction, setting up, serving food, or cleaning up. But we choose to make a small contribution to the school and skip the the biggest social event of the year.
Like so many other Catholic schools and parishes, our school relies on the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars brought in by the auction for financial aid and other crucial programs. The co-chairs of the auction essentially have a full-time job for the year. Their work, and the contributions of all who give, can only be seen as a form of valuable service to the church.
But I wonder if this the way Catholic institutions ought to bring in the money they need. Do we want the major social events of the year to be exclusive events that only the wealthiest among us can attend? Is the promise of things we don’t need (golf baskets?) the only way to encourage our community to give what is needed to fund our schools? Does it make sense for volunteers to spend so much of their time creating a lavish evening of entertainment? Are the other ways to raise money that are more inclusive and more in keeping with Catholic sensibilities about charity and the right use of wealth?
I realize that these are hard questions and I respect the commitment of those who put in so much time because they believe in Catholic schools. But the auction model seems to fit more naturally in a setting that privileges wealth and status, and loves luxury. Aren’t our communities supposed to be about something else?