Know Your Faith Learning Style (For Self Growth and Evangelization)

Anabelle Hazard - Learning Style


Not all spiritual learning happens in schools, and in fact, the greatest of the saints didn’t amass their holiness from a scholarly institution.

When it comes to the subject of faith, there are generally three ways people learn: scholarly/intellectual, emotional/intuitive, and kinesthetic/practical. Occasionally, we may venture out and show interest in other approaches to learning but for the most part, we respond to a certain type of teaching more positively than others:

1. Scholarly/Intellectual — People who learn chiefly from this method are those who like to read up on theology, Catechism, Church politics, current events, philosophy, science, religion history, Canon law and basically, what I call “brain food”. Scholarly learners are thinkers and prefer to analyze facts and ideas and bounce it against their Catholic faith. They find Catholicism best and learn more about their faith through study and more study. They probably excelled in school and academics and accumulating more knowledge is a way of drawing closer to Infinite Wisdom. Their favorite reads are scholars like themselves: St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Bl. Edith Stein and the fathers of the Church. Many adult converts found the faith through this method and are actively, popularly and effectively evangelizing using this method. These learners are an asset to the Church when they engage in apologetics or charitable dialogue with the secular world.

However, because of the emphasis that the world places on intelligence and logic, (and perhaps the desire to sound clever or to counter the stereotype of the naïve religious), it is easy to think that this is the only acceptable approach to learning faith when it is not. Intellectual pride is struggle for the scholarly learners as is the rejection of spiritual and unseen realities as superstition or unnecessary.

2. Emotional/intuitive — People who learn through the emotional or intuitive approach  enjoy reading articles about spiritual reflections on life, self-introspection, methods of prayer, meditations on scripture or what I call “soul food”. Avid fiction readers also fall under the emotional/intuitive category since fiction appeals in large part to the emotions. Emotions and intuition, refined with proper discernment, are gifts of the Holy Spirit. Most Catholics who are open minded about private revelations, relish stories of the miraculous and inspiring, are fascinated by mystical writings of the saints, sense spiritual warfare and follow Marian apparitions, fall under this category because their spiritual senses are highly attuned to the supernatural. Once their hearts are won over, it won’t be long before their mind and will follow suit. The emotional/intuitive’s gift to the Church is their desire to spend lengthy time in prayer and contemplation. Thus, they are powerful intercessors, especially for those they feel compassionate toward. In secret, they have successfully prayed their relatives and friends into conversion. The saints I would classify here are contemplatives St. Pio, St. Therese of Liseux, St. Ignatius (read his spiritual exercises if you don’t believe me) and the famous converter, St. Monica.

The emotional/intuitive can get impulsive or overly spiritual, sometimes neglecting to use God-given intellect or pragmatism as a necessary balance. He can be misunderstood and unable to relate to other types of Catholics because he either cannot articulate his “infused knowledge” and simple acceptance of the mysteries or he just doesn’t care to because he’s already off discovering another spiritual insight or magical moment.

3.  The kinesthetic/practical learners are those whose keen physical senses observe the example of others and are captivated by something that sparks their interest. They are impressed when they notice, for instance, some of their Catholic friends and family generally living joyful and peaceful lives (Thus, Catholics who live holy lives really do preach by the way they simply are, without need for words.) Once the kinesthetic/practical learners’ attention is caught, they emulate their role models, seek the advice of those they respect and get very busy. With constant application, the kinesthetic/practical can in turn become paragons themselves, and walking flyers for the Catholic Church. Catholics who read biographies of the saints fall under this category. The practical learners are involved in Church organizations (mostly as movers and shakers) because their actions enable them a hands-on internship of the faith. If not, they are busy in their homes, creating Catholic arts and crafts. A few saints who are kinesthetic/practical learners are: St. Francis Xavier (he followed his friend St. Ignatius of Loyola and became a successful missionary in Japan), Mother Teresa (she learned to feed the poor and hungry from her mother’s example and started you know, a big order), and the doubting St. Thomas (his motto: to see is to believe).

The kinesthetic/practical learner will probably confess to being too busy to pray or think! A lack of down time may lead him to frustration that he’s the one doing all the real work and result in a burn out. If he disregards his intellect and emotions, he won’t be able to reach his fullest potential and live an authentically Catholic life.

The three styles of learning are not just useful to homeschoolers but to any Catholic. For one, it is beneficial to know which type you are so that you know how to obtain your spiritual nourishment and growth. Also, being aware of the pitfalls of the styles helps you to combat the dangers. Second, it would be advantageous to know what type your family or friends are if you are trying to evangelize them.

Just as the various orders of the Church are imbued with their own charisms, all types of learners and teachers are gifts to the Church.  As part of one body of Christ, we can all learn from each other and be thankful for one another.

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6 thoughts on “Know Your Faith Learning Style (For Self Growth and Evangelization)”

  1. This is awesome! It sums up what Pope Francis recently said about how “nobody in the Church is useless.”

    I think what can be added to all three is to know how the Church is able to feed all of them, because the Catholic faith is integrative and holistic. It becomes all the clearer when we put the Eucharist first: the Incarnation engages all of the above simultaneously, and how it does would involve a lengthy discussion, I’m sure.

    all types of learners and teachers are gifts to the Church. As part of one body of Christ, we can all learn from each other and be thankful for one another.

    Agreed. Because each one of these might be more pronounced in any one person. But it’s the other two learning styles that will help nourish, rightly orient, and refine the area where the person is obviously strongest. All three involve various levels of cognition that flow from the act of belief, because that’s logically implicit in the Incarnation, anyway: as Catholics, we pray with everything we got– heart, mind, soul, and strength. The Incarnation also behooves us to recognize our learning styles and areas of strength as gifts before we can be gifts to anyone else.

    and perhaps the desire to sound clever or to counter the stereotype of the naïve religious

    Agreed. Though this very real– and dangerous– pitfall also begs the issue of where those stereotypes of the naive religious come from (which actually affect the other two types of faith learning styles as well): namely, concepts of spirituality that tend to separate faith from reason, and matter from spirit, and which tend to see faith as merely an emotional “comfort” and an affair of the heart, sentimentally understood.

    Catholics who don’t know where to tap into the intellectual tradition of the Church get frustrated easily in many a parish, because bad catechesis and dumbed-down Catholicism has often been the norm (which is of course complicated by sloppy celebrations of the liturgy). The ability to engage with the Incarnation is therefore fuzzy for everybody: what other pious Catholics see in an intellectual is an elitist know-it-all, who thinks himself or herself “better” than “the common people,” rather than someone who is hungry. I think we in America can partly blame our overemphasis on “the people” here, which is its own form of elitism, and we need to be as vigilant about that as we are about various forms of clericalism and “authority.”

    The intellectually inclined Catholic can often feel like there’s “no room” for them, when there is. If they don’t know how the Church can feed them, and how the Church feeding them is the Sacraments nourishing the gifts that they’ve been given, then it should surprise none of us if they ask why any intellectually inclined person should ever want to be or remain Catholic. We also live in a “Christian” culture where most people’s ideas of engaging with Scripture is not Lectio Divina, but various forms of Bible thumping. The Eucharist– not primarily the human part of the Church’s organization– is what is truly able to meet anyone where they are. It is why the human part– the earthen vessels– can do it at all. It’s not for nothing that Fr. Barron once said that regular Eucharistic Adoration will revolutionize a parish.

    Cleverness is not wisdom, and the gift of the intellect can be abused if not properly nurtured and cared for. Anyone who has spent any length of time in grad school knows this intimately, and scholarly discourse in the absence of the Truth can often devolve into trafficking in information, and sophistry that for its clever-sounding ring often becomes “another kind of stupid” for its lack of wisdom and depth. That there are many shallow Ph.D.s in existence is no reason, however, not to go to grad school: doing it for God’s glory and therefore recognizing it as perhaps the way in which God means one to evangelize is a good reason why someone given that gift and opportunity should. We’re talking “Lumen Gentium” territory here, and we’re talking “Gaudium et Spes,” neither of which should be unhinged from what it means to read Vatican II with a Christocentric lens. It’s a matter of what right stewardship of that gift means.

    There has been way too much emphasis among some whether, if push came to shove, we’d rather have more Ph.D.s in theology or more pious Catholic grandmothers who pray the Rosary every night. Granted that there have been theologians who have run amok to the detriment of the Church’s witness and provided bad examples of intellectuals, what we need are examples of good Catholic intellectuals whose witness is fed by their piety and the everyday, concrete practice of the Catholic faith in doing the littlest of things with great love (I think Hans Urs von Balthasar talked about a “kneeling theology”?), and not an anti-intellectualism that seems common to many on the American Religious Right. And regarding your second example of the intuitive person, we’re not talking just spiritual impulsiveness, but also a form of spiritual pride. In fact, pride will throw all three of the learning styles you’ve described out of whack.

    One does not ever denigrate a simple faith, because a simple faith in God is about receptivity to profundity; to Being Itself. This is required of every Catholic. Those Catholics who are not intellectually inclined do understand this, I think, albeit on different levels, and even if this is not what they would describe themselves as doing (understanding, for one, is not merely about “knowledge,” for as “Lumen Fidei” recently reiterated: unless one believes, one does not understand). What tends to illustrate as much is when Catholics who are not intellectually inclined communicate a profundity with which they are fully engaged because it engages them, in which they see something that the intellectual does not, but which the latter recognizes upon its communication. The supposedly “less-than-clever” Catholic is still using his or her intellect, even if his or her gifts are not pronounced in that particular area, and it is why where they are more abundantly gifted is intelligible, recognizable, and communicable.

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