I always looked forward to the start of the new school year because it meant my mom and I would go to the store and stock up on all the necessary items I would need to be the best student that year. There’s something about new school supplies that I just loved… notebooks with crisp, un-crinkled pages just waiting to be written in… pens with all the ink and perfectly sharpened pencils with fresh pink erasers… folders that aren’t doodled on and a brand new backpack not yet stained by busted yellow highlighters. That new notebook meant straight A’s were on the horizon. That perfect pack of pens meant I would always be prepared. That clean folder was a recipe for organization and efficiency. New stuff meant success. New school supplies meant I could conquer anything that could come my way in the coming months. The start of the new school year was like the start of a whole new life, and I had all these new things to help reset and refocus me. The months to come were ready to be lived in and the new notebooks with their clean pages were like the blank pages of my life, ready to be filled with new knowledge and new adventures.

So often, this is how we start a new school year. We have this mindset that this year is going to be different. It’s the new year, and I’m going to study more, party less, listen more diligently, pray daily, and actually turn in homework on time. This is the year I’ll make new friends, keep my locker clean, buddy up with the teacher, and actually study for the ACT more than just a week in advance. This – this is the year. We set these lofty goals as the new school year begins. We have these high aspirations that the newness of the calendar and the supplies is somehow going to automatically create this better, brand-new and improved me. This was always my mentality: I was going to do all this new stuff and set out to succeed during this new school year and I, on my own, by myself, would become a new me. All these external things would be the catalyst of a new course. Effort, consistency, commitment, and support – all those things would naturally fall into place because everything else was shiny and new. The newness of what surrounded me was enough to make me great.

But then, we’d hit November. The teacher’s voice was getting annoying. The homework was piling up and the two hours of studying every day right after school was getting tiresome. There were a few too many low scores on quizzes and getting over the hump from a C to a B just seemed impossible and not really worth it. Sure, I’d started strong. All that new stuff from the store and my new attitude had set me out on the path to success. But then I’d started to fill the margins of the notebooks with daydream-driven doodles. And once you doodle on one page, they’re all ruined… those crisp, clean pages were now crinkled and dirty. The folders would rip. The pens would run dry. The desire, anticipation, excitement, and hope to succeed had slightly waned. What was the point anymore? Might as well go back to mundane mediocrity. None of it was new anymore.

As each new school year begins, we march into classrooms with these visions of success and the hope to fill the blank slate with nothing but the very best. Setting these lofty goals is a good thing; we should want to start our school year on the right foot and strive to do our very best. But this gung-ho mentality must be maintained far beyond the annoying teacher’s voice or the doodle-filled notebooks. Otherwise, our long-term vision will blur and we will lose sight of the end game. We’ll slip into the “just fine is enough” and “C’s get degrees” and “okay is all I can do” mentality.

And that’s when we become lazy. Laziness leads to boredom, and when we’re bored, we do stupid stuff to keep ourselves occupied. When we’re bored, we let our minds wander and our attitudes shift. When we’re bored, nothing seems to really matter. We become purposeless, which leads to sinfulness. We become distant souls, wandering away from the path of Christ into a dense forest in which we become dazed, confused, and lost. What was once new and exciting has become old and dull. A once strong desire to succeed and excel has become a weakened sense of mediocre accomplishment that doesn’t matter anymore. And we can’t let that attitude win.

The Lord does not call us to mundane mediocrity. The Lord does not call us to “just fine” or “okay.” The Lord does not call us to bored purposelessness with wandering hearts and minds. The Lord calls us to excellence. The Lord calls us to greatness. The Lord calls us to holiness. And the Lord calls us to be great and become saints through and with and in Him. Christ calls us to a daily newness of life because He is the one that makes all things new. Christ calls us to walk His path, embrace His truth, and live life abundantly in Him. We succeed and become what we are meant to be – we excel and become saints – when we fix our eyes on Christ alone and allow Him to be the source of newness in our hearts.

The success we will find this year does not rest on the new school supplies in our backpacks. We have to look past the new notebooks and blank pages and see the Source of all truth and goodness, whose love will fill the pages of our lives. If we’re going to hit a reset button and focus on success and excellence this school year, we have to first look to the One who makes all things new and wants to focus all of our hopes, desires, fears, and goals on Him. As this new school year starts, look past the newness of just all the external stuff and look to the newness of life the Lord offers.

The excellence we will achieve and the holiness in our hearts is not dependent on what we do so much as what we allow the Lord to do within us. Jesus Christ brings newness to each and every day, not just the start of the new school year. The Lord renews us every time we bless ourselves with holy water, recalling our Baptism, when we step out of the confessional freshly forgiven for our sins, and when we receive His precious Body and Blood at the altar. The newness the Lord brings to our lives is not confined to just a few weeks at the start of a school year when new stuff fills our bags. The Lord makes all things new every time we encounter Him and rest in His presence, and this newness of life should direct all our steps and be showcased in everything that we do.

Resolve to focus more on schoolwork and spend more time in daily prayer. Set the goal to not just study for the ACT early, but also pay attention more in Mass, perhaps arriving early to read the readings and reflect on the Sacrifice about to be offered. Challenge yourself to not only make new friends but to be more virtuous in your friendships, eradicating gossip and making better choices. Let the eternal newness of the Lord and His constant renewal of your soul be what excites you at the start of this school year. Look beyond the new school stuff and behold the One who makes all things new.

Katie Prejean McGrady
Katie Prejean McGrady

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Katie Prejean McGrady is a teacher, youth minister, author, and speaker from the great state of Louisiana. Since 2007, Katie has been traveling across the country using her unique style of "theological comedy" with audiences ranging in size from 10 to 10,000. Her original blend of humor and storytelling along with her teaching of hard-hitting theological truth is dynamic, engaging, and challenging. Katie reads voraciously, blogs occasionally, works out daily, and dances with a vengeance. She has her B.A. in Theology from the University of Dallas and is currently working on her Masters in Theological Studies at the Augustine Institute. Her first book, Lessons from Room 24, will be published by Ave Maria Press in spring 2016.