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Your Intellect, Will, and Heart and What Each One Wants (Part I)

Written by Joseph Clem, M.Ed., BCBA, LBA


“[The] search for God demands of man every effort of intellect, a sound will, an ‘upright heart,’ as well as the witness of others who teach him to seek God.”2(CCC#30)

As human beings, we have been trying to figure out how we "work" for as long as we have been able to be self-reflective. Although God first instructed the Jewish people on who they were, even Gentiles like Plato and Aristotle were able to unravel some of the mystery of the human person using God-given reason. Jesus made it clear, through His own life as God taking on human

likeness, what we really are — body and soul united as a single nature.2(CCC#365) Regarding the soul, it is simple and undivided, but we call its different powers by the names “intellect,” “will,” and “heart.” Jesus “worked with human hands [body], He thought with a human mind [intellect], acted by human choice [will] and loved with a human heart”.11 Both Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889-1937) and Dr. Peter Kreeft (b. 1937), as prominent Catholic philosophers, have advocated for understanding the soul in this way.9,10,16

We all want to be complete as human beings, not to mention being ‘complete Catholics.’ This requires having our intellect (reason), will (volition), and heart (affection) integrated. Our head, heart, and hands need to talk to one another! Furthermore, each one of our soul’s powers has a particular aim or goal — an ultimate, objective value … but what are those values?

There is a Catholic community of laymen and clerics dedicated to youth ministry called Youth Apostles, founded by Dr. Eduardo Azcárate (b. 1942) who is a Catholic psychologist. In 1979, he explicitly proposed that our psycho-spiritual development of the soul hinges on how our intellect seeks truth, our will seeks freedom, and our heart seeks care (or love). Von Hildebrand alludes to these values, as well:

Let us admit that in man there exists a triad of spiritual centers – intellect, will, and heart — which are ordained to cooperate and to fecundate one another …
Reason’s true and ultimate mission [is] to recognize the truth and to inquire what we should do …
Similarly, free will in its ultimate meaning [is] it’s being destined to conform to morally relevant values and to their call … The true use of his freedom [is] the ‘yes’ to the call embedded in morally relevant goods and the ‘no’ to morally relevant evils.
To see the role and the rank of the heart and of the affective sphere in its highest manifestations, we have to look at man's life, at his quest for earthly happiness … Can anyone doubt that the deepest source of earthly happiness is the authentic, deep, mutual love between persons, be it conjugal love or friendship?

– Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand16


“We who call ourselves believing Christians and have embarked on the spiritual road marked out by Jesus of Nazareth, the immortal Son of God, must think, feel, and act in a way that is consistent with our identity.” – Groeschel7

Our reason, will, and affection are meant to cohere to one another in a single, undivided, integrated soul as God designed it.4,5,6,13,14,15

The powers of the soul are inseparable just as truth, freedom, and care are inseparable values, and faith, hope, and charity are inseparable graces during our earthly life.

Furthermore, we can never separate these values from God Himself. Jesus is “the Love that reveals truth to us and grants us freedom. And this is the way to happiness,” says Francis I.3 While Fr. Jack Peterson, Y.A. states:

“When God fashioned us in his image and likeness, he bestowed upon us extraordinary powers and capacities. His explosive love drove him to share with us the capacity to know, love, and will, which together enable us to make decisions in freedom.”12

Let us pray that we be filled with “the Spirit of truth, of freedom and of love”8 so that we may have an integrated intellect, will, and heart.

Living in truth, freedom, and care is an extensive topic related to how we have an intellect, will, and heart. However, in Part II of this article are some practical suggestions and reflection questions so that we can strive “to know the truth and to live freedom in love.”1

Joseph M. Clem is a husband, father, and lifetime Youth Apostle. He practices as a licensed behavior analyst in Virginia working with children primarily diagnosed with Autism and volunteering in youth ministry. This article is not written under the scope and competence of board certification or state licensure.


1. Benedict XVI (2007). Angelus on July 1, 2007. Vatican City, Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana

2. CCC = Catechism of the Catholic Church (2012). Vatican City, Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana

3. Francis I (2021). General Audience on October 6, 2021. Paul VI Audience Hall. Vatican City, Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana

4. Francis I (2022a). Address to Members of the Global Researchers Advancing Catholic Education Project on April 20, 2022. Vatican City, Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana

5. Francis I (2022b). General Audience on December 7, 2022. Paul VI Audience Hall. Vatican City, Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana

6. Francis I (2023). Address to Rectors, Professors, Students and Staff of the Roman Pontifical Universities and Institutions on February 25, 2023. Vatican City, Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana

7. Groeschel, B. J. (2021). Spiritual Passages: The Psychology of Spiritual Development. The Crossroad Publishing Company: New York, NY. (Originally published 1983)

8. John Paul II (1993). Veritatis splendor [Encyclical, on certain fundamental questions of the Church’s moral teaching]. Libreria Editrice Vaticana: Vatican City, Vatican

9. Kreeft, P. J. (2015). Truth, Good, and Beauty - the Three Transendentals. Living Bulwark [online publication]. Vol. 81, August/September 2015 (Originally published in 2008 as an essay “Lewis’ Philosophy of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty” in Baggett, Habermas, Walls, & Morris (2008). C.S. Lewis as Philosopher: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty). Accessed via

10. Kreeft, P. J. (2020). Wisdom of the Heart: The Good, True, and the Beautiful at the Center of Us All. TAN Books: Gastonia, NC

11. Paul VI (1965). Gaudium et Spes [Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World]. Vatican City, Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

12. Peterson, J. (2020). Jesus Himself Drew Near. Wellspring: North Palm Beach, FL

13. Pius XI (1925). Quas Primas [Encyclical, on the Feast of Christ the King]. Vatican City, Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana

14. Valle, A., Cabanach, R. G., Núñez, González-Pienda, J., Rodríguez, S., & Piñiero, I. (2003). Cognitive, motivational, and volitional dimensions of learning: An empirical test of a hypothetical model. Research in Higher Education, 44(5), 557-580 (October 2003)

15. Vitz, P., Nordling, W. J., & Titus, C. S. (2020). A Catholic Christian Meta-Model of the Person: Integration with Psychology & Mental Health Practice. Divine Mercy University Press: Sterling, VA

16. Von Hildebrand, D. (2007). The Heart: An Analysis of Human and Divine Affectivity. [Haldane, J. (Preface), Crosby, J. H. (Ed.), & Crosby, J. F. (Introduction)] . St. Augustine Press, Inc.: South Bend, IN (Originally published in 1965)

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