| By Pete Burak

Be your best self

Practicing the cardinal virtues

I’ll never forget the conversation where my dad revealed to me the difference between a nice guy and a good man. We were sitting in the driveway after a particularly heated and intense basketball training session. I hadn’t felt like practicing, I grumpily let him know it and, unsurprisingly, I started off playing terribly. He, in response, challenged me to work harder, rise above and remember the goals I was working toward.

I wanted to be an exceptional basketball player, but in the moment, my feelings of disinterest, laziness and annoyance were winning. Ultimately, his message broke through, and I conquered my unhelpful desires and put in the work. As we arrived back home, Dad said, “Pete, this was a perfect example of the difference between a nice guy and a good man.” He proceeded to explain how a “nice guy” might know how to act politely but doesn’t know how to conquer his feelings and ultimately doesn’t live with perseverance and tenacity. A “good man,” however, does what is right regardless of his feelings; he fosters habits directed toward a noble purpose. Ultimately, a “good man” is virtuous.

I love this definition of virtue from the Catechism, #1803: “A virtue is a habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.” Specifically, prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance (the cardinal virtues) are the four foundations upon which all the other human virtues are built.

Prudence helps us choose what is the right thing to do, it’s well-formed reason in action. Justice is the repeated action of giving what is due or what is owed to both God and others. Fortitude is having the strength or the courage to do what is right when it’s hard. Temperance helps us enjoy and utilize earthly things and desires within the proper amount and balance.

So much more could be said, but I’ll leave you with one more quote from the Catechism, #1810: “Human virtues … are purified and elevated by divine grace. With God's help, they forge character …The virtuous man is happy to practice them.”

My dad’s wisdom on being a good man has consistently motivated me to practice the virtues, and my jump shot could use some reps too!

Pete Burak is the director of i.d.9:16, the young adult outreach of Renewal Ministries. He has a master’s degree in theology and is a frequent speaker on evangelization and discipleship.

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