This teaching tool uses visual clues to trigger
memorization. Presented as a puzzle, it is a unique way to remember key
elements of our faith, including prayers, Scripture, facts on Catholic teachings
Why should we, as catechists, include learning by
heart—memorization—in our methodologies? Here’s what you need to know:
* “While the content of the faith cannot be reduced to
formulas that are repeated without being
properly understood, learning by heart has had a special place in
catechesis and should continue to have that place in catechesis today” (National Directory for Catechesis, n.
* Memorizing has been
proven to strengthen the mind. Like pulling clay, memorizing makes the mind
more flexible, capable of grasping and retaining more information. Memorization
helps learners grasp information about the Church and our Catholic faith.
* Memorizing helps key elements of our faith—including
prayers, Scripture, Catholic teachings and traditions—take root in the mind.
Learners can retrieve the information when it is most needed, often during
times of crisis.
* Understanding and committing to memory key elements of
Catholic teaching helps students learn by heart so that they can live by faith.
Here is a Learning by Heart exercise to use with your
The Two Great Commandments
Use this exercise to
supplement a lesson about the Two Great Commandments. The exercise can help
your students learn by heart Jesus’ response to the question, “What is the
greatest commandment?” He summarizes the entire Ten Commandments (from Exodus
20:1-17) into Two Great Commandments. He changes the language from “Thou shall
not” to “You shall.”
This is an important change.
The Ten Commandments are worded like a loving parent would guide a toddler: Do
not…go into the street. Do not…leave the yard. Do not…talk to strangers. These
words protect and set boundaries. But the words of the Two Great Commandments are
the words of a loving parent to an older child who is ready for a deeper level
of understanding. They are presented as positive actions to take.
The boundaries of the Ten
Commandments are the framework around our lives. The guidance of the Two Great Commandments
is like painting within that framework.
Jesus’ words were, “You shall
love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with
all your mind, and with all your strength. You shall love your neighbor as
yourself” (Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:25-28, Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2196).
Using the Puzzle Page
This puzzle [CLICK HERE FOR
STUDENT PAGE] can help students learn this verse by heart. Here’s
how to use it:
1. Before presenting this
exercise, review the puzzle and become familiar with the images used in
association with the words [CLICK HERE FOR CATECHIST PAGE]:
referring to God in this puzzle (Lord, God) are represented by a decorative
knot pattern for the first letter of that word. The ancient Book of Kells (a
beautifully illustrated rendition of the Gospels created by Celtic monks around
800 a.d.) uses this kind of
elegant imagery to indicate “sacredness.”
The action word love is represented
by a hand offering a heart (love).
“Your heart” is represented by two hands holding a heart (all your heart).
“Your soul,” immortal and created by God, is represented by a spirit body
inside a human form.
“Your mind” and “your strength” are represented by hands pointing to the head
(mind) and muscles (strength).
“Your neighbor” is represented by a ring of paper people in a circle of love.
“Yourself” is represented by hands resting against a human form (self).
2. Review with students what
Jesus taught about loving God, loving our neighbor, and loving ourselves. Jesus
asks for our total commitment and dedication. We are to give God our entire
being. (With younger students, repeat the exact words of Jesus at least twice.)
3. Have students work the puzzle
by writing on the lines the words associated with the images to end up with the
Two Great Commandments.
4. Students can color or
decorate the page to create a poster.
5. Repeat the words of Jesus
again as a group.
6. Ask students to memorize
7. Repeat the exercise as
often as needed, discussing the meaning and saying the words of Jesus. Remind
students that these commandments can be found in three of the Gospels—Matthew,
Mark, and Luke.
Judith Costello, MA, writes for national and regional
publications and is a Third Order Carmelite (OCSD). She is an artist, freelance
writer, and catechist. Judith can be reached at Judith@parentingwithspirit.com.