(This post is featured in Catholic Stand)
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.
I’m an unabashed #2 intuitive/emotional learner. Which one are you?