Catholic Identity: Head, Heart, and Hands

Catholic Identity: Head, Heart, and HandsWe’ve been hearing about Catholic Identity for a long time. There are a number of resources available to help us understand what it is and why its so important. The USCCB offer countless articles on aspects of Catholic Identity and how it affects every aspect of our lives. Prominent Catholic authors have countless instructional and reflective books as well. But for the Catechist, what does Catholic Identity truly mean, and how do we teach it to our youth?

Catholic Identity encompasses everything Catholics do, everyday. It’s how we think, what’s in our hearts, and what we do with our gifts of time and talent. Catholic Identity is our Creed as in what we believe, it is our spirituality and how we practice our faith, it is our morality, and it is our prayer. Our challenge is to teach the faithful what Catholics believe, introduce them to the person of Christ, and challenge them to live as a Catholic Christian in every moment. Ultimately, for the purposes of catechesis, Catholic Identity is a movement from head, to heart, to hands. So how do we do that?


When catechists think of reaching student’s heads, we think of book knowledge. We think of the cognitive abilities of the child to learn Scripture and Tradition. They should be able to learn key vocabulary, scripture, people in the Bible, precepts of the faith, and so on. In fact, this is one of the easiest approaches to catechesis because with a few questions we can tell if they have learned the information or not. Memorizing questions and answers is what made the Baltimore Catechism so popular, after all. Do you still remember why you were made? To ensure a solid Catholic Identity one must know their faith, meaning, what the Church teaches, and why.

The challenge for catechesis is can we get the children to have a Catholic sensibility. In other words, can we even lead people to making a connection between something a person, place or event with our faith? For example, is a person acting on behalf of Jesus or the Church, or his or herself? Is the place the person is located a reflection of God’s grandeur or of something human has made of it and for what purpose? Is the event associated with a higher purpose or for mere human pleasure? We may achieve this level of catechesis fairly easily, but until we are able to make the content connect with the heart, we are leaving them partially complete.


I’ve heard it said that the longest 12 inches is from the head to the heart. The biggest challenge for many catechists is to get the knowledge of content into the students hearts. As a convert to the Catholic Church, I realized upon reflection that until I had a change of heart towards Jesus, the facts of the Church’s teaching really didn’t matter. My impression was there were a lot of rules and information that didn’t seem to matter to me on a personal level until I had that encounter with Jesus. That’s when it became personal and I wanted to learn and understand more. I believe it’s that way with many people. In other words, I had to become evangelized and encounter Christ.

Using the reference of people, places and events from above, the challenge for catechesis is to get the person to associate their discernment from above and connect it with their heart. For example, if a person, place, or event is operating on behalf of Jesus or the Church might we offer a prayer in their support? If they are operating on behalf of selfish interests or motivation that is contrary to Jesus or the Church, might we offer prayer that would change them or combat their efforts? Connecting the head with the heart is essential, but there is one additional step.


The tipping point for many people is once they are evangelized and catechized (in their hearts and heads) they feel compelled to do something with their faith (hands). Depending on their backgrounds they may become contemplative or activists. Some find a spirituality that helps them communicate with or find God in everyday life and others simply want to go help others. Either way, finding a way to express one’s faith and contribute to society is an essential part of being a Christian.

Continuing with the examples above, if students are able to discern motive and offer spiritual support, are they then capable of doing something that supports Catholic interests? Might they have a conversation with a person, or offer service or justice for the sake of improving places or events? How are we able to enhance Catholic Identity so that people think, feel, and acts as Catholics?

The Seven C’s and Head, Heart, and Hands – Putting It All Together

In the previous post we looked at the Seven C’s as an anthropological foundation for Catholic Identity. We were able to identify that each one offered a facet of and foundation for our identity that actually lends itself to who we are as Catholics and how to identify with our faith. Let’s now make the correlation between the Seven C’s and our student’s heads, hearts, and hands.

Head –  Cognitive, Information




Heart – Affective, Formation




Hands – Behavioral, Transformation



Forming Catholic Identity is not easy! This information could take a book to address so is comprehensive and not a simple process. The information above is intentionally incomplete as it is a work that needs a great deal of thought by the catechist and this forum is to get catechists thinking. However, with awareness and careful examination the Seven C’s combined with the approach of the Head, Heart, and Hands of our students, this model puts a practical tool at the hand of catechists and religious educators.

What benefits or challenges could we expect to see if this model was implemented?

(This is one of a two-part reflection on Catholic Identity. This one, Catholic Identity: Head, Heart and Hands, looks at Catholic Identity through the lens of catechesis and considers our anthropology and how it leads to three aspects of development. The other, The Seven C’s of Catholic Identity, looks at the development of Catholicism identifying the specific aspects of humanity that make us who we are.)

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