The thing I never even suspected about Catholic high school is how it would shape my kids' ideas about money. You know who sends their kids to Catholic high school? It's mostly people with disposable income. To be more specific, according to my oldest son, it's a bunch of rich white people who all live in the same two subdivisions. Is that a comprehensive demographic report on the Gladlyville Catholic high school? Of course not. Do people nod ruefully when they hear it? Yes, they do.
It started in small ways, with a kid saying, "I cannot take that phone to school." It comes up routinely. "Everybody I know went to a different state for spring break."
The first person I knew in town who sent her kids to Catholic school talked regularly about feeling the pinch. Nursing an old car through yet another repair, delaying the purchase of a larger house. "We never go on vacation," she said. "We have kids in Catholic school." I hear it from other families with kids at the parish grade school as well. But that kind of budgetary caution doesn't seem to be the norm among the families who send their kids to the Catholic high school.
The letter of James says that the love of money is the root of all evil. That sounds like a wacky assertion these days, but I believe it's true. It's all over the news in recent weeks. I'm seeing it in Martin Chuzzlewit, which prefigures Bleak House in its decrial of those who would rather have an inheritance than a living testator. It was clear in the chunk of Mark's gospel I read this morning: How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! In response the disciples said LOL WUT (the Millennials Translation, natch), so Jesus had to tell them again.
His disciples are still saying LOL WUT here in the third millennium.
I think it's hard to teach the universality of the church in a homogenous environment. It's hard to teach preferential love for the poor when a majority of school families are in the top income quintile. I am still troubled -- so troubled that I don't see us sending the younger kids there -- by the stories I hear about partisan identity trumping* Catholic identity.
*no pun intended
Poverty is the first of the evangelical counsels (joined by chastity and obedience) for a reason. When a person has plenty of money, it can be a bulwark that causes her to lose sight of the truth: God alone is our refuge and strength. When wealth is normal, it reorders kids' priorities. (And adults' priorities too.) When privilege becomes something a person thinks she deserves instead of something for which she should be humbly grateful, it warps the lenses through which she views the world.
I'm not sure it does much good to ask for our eyes to be enlightened if we're going to insist on wearing the wrong glasses.