Sat. Oct 24th, 2020

A few years ago, a yellow plastic folder became the cause of my back-to-school consternation. Multiple stores were visited and numerous boxes were perused in search of this elusive item. Red paper folders were bountiful. Blue folders were cascading down the aisles. Folders with characters and sports teams mocked my agony.
While it was eventually found and purchased, this single folder was the rallying cry and the final piece to finally feel like we were prepared for school to begin. “I found it!” I joyfully declared as I returned home with markers and erasers among my treasures. I soon melted into a state of sorrow when I discovered that I was working from the wrong grade level list.
School supply lists are a necessary component to the annual ritual of going back to school. My wife loves new supplies, the excitement of purchasing a brand new pack of paper and the smells that accompany educational reinforcements. On the other hand I tolerate the procurement of pencils but thoroughly enjoy the sense of completion — hand me a list and I will happily mark things off.
Finding the right supplies and making sure the uniforms fit properly are important steps, but being busy often distracts us from our ultimate goal of sainthood. Education is one aspect of formation; it’s not just what our young people know, it’s who they are — a child of God — and who they are becoming – a saint. St. Frances Xavier Cabrini said, “If we train the mind, we thereby educate the heart and instill in our youth the principles of religion and honesty so that they will become good Christian citizens.”
I would like to offer a saintly supply list that young people and their families can consult as the new school year rapidly approaches. What goes into your spiritual backpack before school begins?
One book on our saintly supply list is the Bible. St. Jerome reminded us, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Instead of trying to read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, an easy way to add more Scripture to your routine is reading one of the Gospels in its entirety, or even just the Gospel for the daily Mass. Reading Scripture and discussing it as a family can be a great way to grow in holiness together.
We need advocates and cheerleaders, so let’s choose a patron saint for this school year to call upon for their intercession. Perhaps it’s a patron saint of a particular interest, a saint with a cool name, or a saint with any interesting life story. When we pray as a family, we can include those names as we pray. Parents can also look into purchasing charms from Tiny Saints or socks from Sock Religious to have their child’s saint even more present.
We can include a sacramental on this list as well. Whether it’s a rosary, crucifix, scapular, medal, holy card or holy water, these tangible items can remind us of our need to be close to God through the sacraments. Sacramental grace is an important part of a faith-filled life, so let’s add a calendar to remind us to go to Mass and frequent Reconciliation.
Finally, we want to pack a small mirror. Yes, it would be great to make sure we don’t have spinach in our teeth, but there is a deeper meaning to have a personal sized mirror in our spiritual backpack. A mirror can remind us that we are unique, unrepeatable and infinitely loved by God who created us in His image and likeness. A mirror can remind us that we have dignity and worth, not because of the great things we do, but because we are sons and daughters of God.
In a culture that tears down and destroys, we need to give our young people the chance to be uplifted. Anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation are becoming much more common than they need to be for our young people.
Test scores do not define a young person’s worth. Athletic achievements do not define a young person’s worth. The number of followers on Instagram or the streaks in Snapchat does not define a young person’s worth. Parents and adults in the pews have the opportunity to remind our young people of this, that their worth is inherent and comes from God.
As a new school year begins, let’s equip our young people with the tools and skills they will need to grow in holiness, to follow Jesus Christ as missionary disciples, and to become the saints we need. They have their yellow plastic folders but they need grace to be spiritually ready to head back to school.
— Adam Ganucheau is the Director of the Office of Youth Ministry for the Archdiocese of Mobile. He may be emailed at
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