5 MUST-HAVE School Supplies to Keep Kids on the Path to Heaven

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It’s that time again when moms and dads across this great land finish checking off a mile-long list of obscure, annoyingly specific school supplies. We scour the internet, traipse through aisle after aisle of every big box store and office supply emporium around, trying to find the correct color, brand, and amount, at the right price. But there’s always one item at the bottom of the page that is nowhere to be found—that elusive pre-sharpened number 2 red Ticonderoga training marking-pencil with a white eraser fashioned out of rare unicorn dust and angel feathers…?

We’ve come a long way from my school days (way back in 19—ahem, never mind!) when the list consisted of at most four or five items—pencil, scissors, crayons, glue, and paper. This gets me thinking about what kids actually need to get across the finish line of school and ultimately life. Here’s a hint: you can’t get it at Walmart. What spiritual tools can I provide my children to help them navigate the more arduous path to heaven? A couple years ago, I compiled my first list: The Top 5 Must-Have School Supply Items for Every Catholic Kid. In the spirit of growing lists, I’ve added to it. For a refresher on what is at the top of my list, check it out here. Now for my 2019 new & improved edition of the essential spiritual school supply list:

5. St. Benedict Medal

Sadly, there’s no way to shield our kids from all of the evil that lurks in this world. But we can prepare them to combat it. Why not arm them with one of the strongest sacramentals out there? This medal is not only a reminder for kids to make good choices throughout their day, but it is also a powerful spiritual weapon. On the face of the medal is an image of St. Benedict, known as the father of western monasticism and the patron saint of students. As a young man, he saw his fellow pupils squandering their God-given gifts on pleasure rather than the pursuit of truth. Hmmm. Sound vaguely familiar to our modern educational system? Benedict is a potent intercessor for spiritual protection, helping to fight temptation and angst. On the back of the medal are the initials of an exorcism prayer that relates to an event in Benedict’s own life:

Begone, Satan,

Do not suggest to me thy vanities!

Evil are the things thou offerest,

Drink thou thy own poison!

There is a lot more behind the medal which you can read about here. You can purchase them at any Catholic gift shop. Get your medal blessed by a priest. Then remind little Janie or Johnny to stick it in a pocket or on a necklace and use it. St. Benedict, pray for our youth!

4. Holy Water

We wouldn’t dare send precious Buffy or Biff to school without a water bottle. They might have to use the water fountain. Gasp! Instead of making germ-free hydration our top priority, maybe we should be focused on leading kids to the Living Water. Keep a container of holy water on hand near the door. Before the kids leave, hit them with a few sprinkles to remind them of their baptism as new creations in Christ. When it’s a particularly harried morning, you can have some fun with it. “Ow! Mom, you got me right in the eye!” “Oops. Don’t know how that happened.” Consider offering them a quick blessing too. I like to say, “Provide Jesus a warm and loving home in your heart today,” or “God never tires of loving or forgiving you. Now be Christ to everyone you encounter.” These special moments of connection can be one of those traditions they pass on to their own children someday.

3.The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism

This book series is the spiritual equivalent of an at-home electric pencil sharpener. When things get a little dull, this book will keep kids on point. It’s got everything they need to know about church teaching, written in an easy-to-follow question and answer format. It’s meant for kids in about the third grade, but in my opinion, is helpful through at least 8th grade. I didn’t discover it until the third decade of my life. It could have prevented a lot of turmoil by answering some basic existential questions. Get this book! Keep it somewhere in the house that gets a lot of traffic. It’s a great source for discussion and can lead kids to deeper faith if they get some of the whys behind what we do and what we believe.

2. Inspirational Bible Verses

I know a lot of parents who put notes in their kids’ lunches which is super sweet. “Buford, eat your veggies! Love, Mom” Why not add a quick Bible passage? You could also put it on a post-it note and stick it to the seat in front of them for the commute to school. We can all stand to learn more scripture. Choosing a Bible passage means we adults have to put down our devices for a moment and crack open the Sacred Word while offering some inspiration to our kids. Win-win! If you have a child who is experiencing a particular struggle, cater the Bible verse to offer support and guidance for that issue. The verse could be a good entry point for some hearty discussion at the dinner table. When a kid is well-formed in scripture, they will have the benefit of wisdom to safely lead them through life’s fires. Wondering where to start? Open any of St. Paul’s epistles.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

-Romans 12:21

1. My Identity as a Son/Daughter of God Prayer

Wow, these prayers hit the mark! If you’re not familiar, allow me to be the first person to put them on your spiritual radar. They are poetic, yet powerful reminders of our noble purpose here on Earth.

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Written by Father Ignatius Mazanowski of the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit, the Identity prayer arms a tween or teenager with the knowledge of who he/she is, a son or daughter of the King. Look no further than the staggering news accounts of mass shootings, bullying, and depression to understand the depth of confusion and isolation in young people. Praying is an effective way to combat all the negativity, hate, and competition that is rampant in schools and on social media. It is too easy for an adolescent to lose sight of his true identity as a child of God. We can easily fall into the culture trap of finding our worth in what we do, or the labels other people give us. Reciting this prayer regularly can help build a kid’s self-esteem on a solid Christian foundation. Print a bunch of these. Post it on the bathroom mirror. Slip it in a backpack or the glove box. Use them as bookmarks in textbooks. Tack it to the fridge. Recite it as a family in the evening. Kids need to get hit with messages multiple times before they stick. Seize all the opportunities available. Stand back and marvel at the transformation!

Making saints is tough work, but take heart, it’s also a heck of a lot more rewarding than buying the perfect protractor. While graduation is certainly a noble goal, let’s lead our kids safely across the eternal finish line. May God grant all parents the strength and zeal to bring His children home. A holy and happy school year to all of you!

Crying as We Rejoice: The Bereaved at Christmas

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I secretly cried after Mass yesterday. My kids told me that one of the new altar boys that they served with had his grandparents in town for Christmas. The enthusiastic Nanna and Papa were so gleefully proud, they couldn’t refrain from snapping photos to memorialize their beloved grandson’s biggest moments. Clearly, their hearts swelled with pride for their daughter’s treasured offspring.

On the drive home, I told my boys that if Grandma Maureen and Grandpa Jerry were living, they would have taken loads of pictures too. How proud they would be. How proud they are. “Maybe they’re taking photos from heaven…” I mused. Then the quiet tears.

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Advent Life Hacks to Help Your Family Grow in Holiness

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It turns out, for most of my life I’ve had Advent all wrong. Caught up in the whirring consumer machine, I often couldn’t wait to kick start the celebration of Christmas. I’d barely make it to the end of the Thanksgiving meal and I was breaking out the decorations, singing the songs and scrounging at the stores. December 1st signaled the beginning of that most magical time of the year known as Christmas, right? Actually…

(Insert record scratch here.)

Advent is not party time. It’s prep time. What helped me to better understand and explain to my kids was this analogy: Lent is to Easter as Advent is to Christmas. You wouldn’t plan to party it up during Holy Week. (Those of you thinking, why not?… allow me to direct you to some great agnostic sites.) The minute Lent begins, we don’t start celebrating Christ’s glorious resurrection. We work on our spiritual lives. We train in order to get our souls in shape. Then on Easter, it’s the big reveal, the greatly anticipated end to all that work. He is risen! OFFICIAL party time. Now pass the doughnuts!

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Beware! Are you a ZOMBIE Catholic?

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(This was posted last October and got a lot of great feedback, so I’m reposting for those of you who would like a refresher on Zombie Catholicism. I added a particular prayer at the end of the post that has helped me personally keep the zombies at bay)

Halloween is just around the corner. And as usual, I expect to see my fair share of kids trick-r-treating in their zombie get-ups: pasty white masks with dark, vacant circles for eyes, torn shirts and pants, occasionally a little flourish of fake blood splattered here or there. It’s usually the teenagers who go all out with the most gruesome costumes, but occasionally a five-year-old will greet me at the doorstep decked out in full zombie face paint and garb. I respond the same way each time. “Oh… wow…quite a costume,” I stutter with my best perma-smile. “My, look at all that blood… here’s your candy,” I murmur, avoiding eye contact while timidly dropping a couple snickers in the outstretched bag. Then I anxiously scan the perimeter to make sure there aren’t any zombie parents lurking nearby.

Don’t chuckle. Zombies exist. They dwell in our midst.

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Filth & Faith: How My Husband and I are Talking to Our Kids About the Problems in Our Church

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Is it just me or have you noticed how every single reading from Mass over the last couple weeks seems to point to all of the unrest and scandal in the church of late? Not in that oblique, beating around the bush kind of way, but overtly, and in a way that seems to strike you to the core. It’s kind of how I remember feeling after a romantic heartbreak. No matter what station I tuned the radio dial to, I’d hear a song that eerily seemed to be speaking directly to me. But this a lot different. It’s not the voice of Tears for Fears. It’s God who is knocking on our collective foreheads, trying to break through so we might truly hear Him in the midst of such devastation.

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I Cried with Michael Jordan

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Certain iconic sports images of epic underdog wins and poetic last plays witnessed over the course of my life remain imprinted on my brain. Consider Tiger Woods dramatically donning the green Masters’ blazer as the first person of color, Michael Phelps shattering the record for the most gold medals, the Chicago Cubs’ curse-breaking World Series triumph against my beloved Cleveland Indians. I could easily go on, but there’s one memory that is even more enduring. Yet, I suspect many of you probably won’t even recall it.

For me, the moment crystallized not just a legendary sporting achievement, but an encounter with sadness and mourning in the midst of victory. It was Father’s Day, 1996. Michael Jordan had just won his 4th championship for the Chicago Bulls. His win was rendered even more momentous after a brief retirement and triumphant return to the sport that made him a household name. Also notable, this marked Jordan’s first major career win without the support of his father in the stands. Jordan’s dad had been murdered three years earlier.

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A Holy Cheat Sheet for the End of Summer

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I’ve been a mom for over a decade now. But each year, summer still seems to slip through my hands like sand through one of those sandbox toys my husband runs over while mowing the lawn. There is roughly one month left to make the most of these endless hot, unstructured days. I’ve challenged myself to step up my game—the result, a list of family activities that will capitalize on our last weeks of freedom while helping to lead this domestic church from hullabaloo to greater holiness. Join us as we 

Carpe Do’em!

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