As the Church celebrates Jesus’ resurrection this Easter, she also celebrates the blessedness of Pope John Paul II. On Mercy Sunday Pope Benedict XVI will be declared as Blessed John Paul II. Miracles are being investigated ongoing. When the second miracle following his beatification is confirmed by the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, John Paul II will be known as Pope Saint John Paul II.
No one knows how long it will take to use the careful means of science to confirm, without doubt, another miracle. For most of us, we’ve been praying to this saint for intercession since the day he died. It’s just a matter of time before the Church confirms what we know in our hearts.
This article provides a lesson plan for you to use with all age CCD students, to help them connect Jesus’ witness to the concrete life of a saint who lived during their lifetime: John Paul II, while focusing on the virtues related to courage, faithfulness, patience through suffering and love.
John Paul II started out as a regular kid, just like the rest of us. Yet he lived the high call that God calls each of us to: to become a saint.
Courage follows from the virtue of fortitude. Fortitude enables us to overcome fear and remain steady in our will to do the right thing while overcoming obstacles. Courage animates the will to stay the course.
Reflect on Jesus’ courage: He was mocked, attacked, challenged, stalked, arrested, beaten, carried the cross and died through crucifixion.
Ask your students: What are you called to do in your life that requires courage?
- His mother died when he was 8 years old.
- His sister when he was young, and his brother while John Paul was a teenager.
- His father died when John Paul was 20.
- John Paul II said, “At 20 I had already lost all the people I loved.”
John Paul II had to practice courage in his country of Poland:
- He suffered physical attacks during the Nazi occupation of Poland in World War II. He witnessed deaths directly. An estimated 6 million Poles died because of the Nazis.
- He helped some Jews escape death at the hands of the Nazis.
- He became a priest despite Nazi oppression:
- 80% of Catholic leaders were taken to concentration camps by the Nazis.
- Catholic convents, monasteries, seminaries and schools were shut down.
John Paul II’s mantra followed Jesus’ call to: “fear not!”
Patience through suffering
Patience comes from the Latin verb that means “to suffer.”
Reflect on Jesus’ suffering: We can only imagine what it felt like to be whipped until the skin peeled off his back. We can only imagine the pain caused by countless sharp thorns puncturing his head when the crown of thorns was forced upon his head. Having lost so much blood, we can only imagine how he carried, fell and rose repeatedly to haul the cross up the hill. Hands and feet pierced by nails, tearing flesh, crushing bones, lacerating veins and nerve endings – hard to imagine. Yet, Christ bears more than just those historical wounds; he is wounded continuously by each sin every individual the world over commits.
Ask the students: What do you have a hard time being patient about? What suffering do you try to avoid?
John Paul II had to practice patience through suffering. He was struck by a Nazi car, and suffered a concussion and shoulder break. He had to haul rocks in a stone quarry during Nazi occupation. He was shot by a crazy man, and he endured Parkinson’s disease, refusing the full pain relief medicine so he could stay sharp for his papal duties.
Faithfulness requires the alignment of intellect and will. We know the what is right and we act according to that principle.
Jesus’ faithfulness to us through all the ways each of us and all of humanity has fallen, and continues to fall, testifies to divine love. Faith is a theological virtue, one we receive by Grace, and one we carry forth through ongoing acts of will – daily choices.
How do you practice faithfulness, and what are the challenges you face to staying faithful?
John Paul II remained faithful to his family, to his country and to all of Christendom during his papacy. In his life, and in his death, he intercedes for our needs.
He was also faithful in smaller ways, as a young boy:
- To his studies: As he did his homework each night, he went to his family altar and prayed before he began his homework, and between each subject. Though intellectually gifted, he placed his gifts and challenges before the Lord frequently.
- He loved soccer, and he played the role of goal-keeper. Though just a game, being the goal-keeper is a great symbol of faithfulness to his team.
Love is the highest theological virtue and “binds all the virtues” together. Love is defined as “we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.” (Catechism 1822) Love is not just a feeling, it is a choice made in light of our devotion to God and His creation.
Jesus’ love began before the beginning of the world, and through His Creation; his love persists through his suffering and redemptive love.
Ask your students: How do you share your love? When is it hard to love?
John Paul II spoke of love most of all. He said about family love: “The family has a mission to guard, reveal and communicate love” (Familiaris Consortio, #17). He said each of us is equal in dignity – created by God in love to love others. We are made from love and we are made to love. Each deserves to be loved. All must love. That is the most important guiding principle for every choice we make in each moment of our lives. And we should always know that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.”
John Paul II was ordained on All Saints Day. He died on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday. He will be beatified this coming Mercy Sunday. He lived a life of exemplary virtue, and his witness of love continues through miraculous intervention. His witness, in our lifetime, provides perfect teaching opportunities for your children and students this Easter season.
Books for elementary-age children:
Book for middle and high school-age children: