SAN DIEGO, California, DEC. 12, 2003 (Zenit.org).- More than 100,000 teens each year hear God’s plan for life and love, thanks to the efforts of Jason and Crystalina Evert.
The Everts are a newlywed couple and chastity speakers who work for Catholic Answers and visit high schools — public, Christian and Catholic — around the country.
Jason Evert, author of “If You Really Loved Me” (Catholic Answers), shared with ZENIT how their young audiences respond to their message about chastity and what parents can do to help their teens choose to be chaste.
Q: What are the key points you stress to your young audiences?
Evert: If I could sum up our talk in one sentence, it would be this: The peace and joy that come from a lifestyle of chastity is worth more than all the pleasures of the world.
During a high school assembly, Crystalina and I share our testimonies with the teens. This seems to lower their defenses and open their hearts.
We begin by addressing the “how far is too far” question by inviting the teens to consider how far they would want someone to go with their future spouse. Other topics include the dangers of pornography, the power of modesty and the growing trend towards chastity among the youth.
We stress that God’s plan for life and love is exactly what the teens are looking for. Once we see the truth about our bodies and the truth about sex, we change our lives not as a result of force, obligation, persuasion, guilt, fear of pregnancy or disease, but because God’s view of love is everything that the human heart longs for.
Q: How do you think the media mislead the youth today?
Evert: The most obvious trend seems to be the portrayal of premarital sex as liberating, fulfilling and without negative consequences. The myth of “safe sex” is especially damaging. Beyond the spiritual and emotional consequences of “safe sex,” the teens are lied to about the physical dangers.
We recently spoke in Michigan to 10,000 students. During each talk, I asked the students what the most common sexually transmitted disease was. Not one of the students knew the answer. It is human papillomavirus, HPV, which is now responsible for the deaths of more women every year than AIDS, because it causes 99% of cervical cancer. The media won’t talk about this because the condom is useless in preventing HPV. So much for safe sex.
Q: How have young people responded to your message?
Evert: Recently, we were invited to an inner-city public high school, where 72 girls were pregnant on campus. This number did not include the middle school, which brought the total closer to 100.
Before the presentation, I told an administrator that we offer the students chastity commitment cards at the end of the talk, and that we’d like a table to put the cards on, so that the students could pick them up. She kindly set up the table, winked at us and informed me that she would individually hand them to the teens, in case anyone actually wanted one.
When the talk ended, she later told me that she had never felt like she was in a stampede before. She said the teens thundered down the gym bleachers towards her and she threw the cards on the table and literally ran out of the way. The teens cleared out the cards and were nagging the administration because there was none left.
The young people are thirsting for truth, for guidance and for someone who believes in them. They’ve heard how to avoid gonorrhea, but what they want to know is the difference between love and lust. They know what it’s like to come from a broken family, and they’re more than happy to hear about how they can offer their future children something better.
Their openness to the message is beautiful to watch. But, I must add that it is not our message, since we can’t take credit for Pope John Paul II’s “theology of the body.”
Q: How can parents help their children to practice chastity?
Evert: First and foremost, we encourage the parents to pray for their children. The offering of Masses, rosaries and days of fasting should not be seen as a backup plan when all else fails, but as a parent’s most powerful tool.
When Pope John Paul II challenges young people, saying, “Do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium!” the call extends to parents as well. In the words of the Holy Father, “The Church and the world today more than ever need married couples who generously let themselves be schooled by Christ.”
Chastity is a virtue, and like all virtues it is easier caught than taught. When a married couple practices chastity, their purity of heart, reverence and sacrificial love is obvious.
Here, I should add that chastity is not the same thing as abstinence. One mother recently approached me after I gave a parent chastity talk. She said that as she was leaving her house to come to the talk, her husband asked, “Honey, where are you going?” She replied, “To a chastity talk.” His response? “Well, don’t get any ideas!”
This is a common misunderstanding. Abstinence means “no sex.” Chastity means purity of heart and the strength to use the gift of sexuality according to God’s designs for it. So, for a married couple, chastity requires — among other things — that they remain faithful to their wedding vows and not use contraception.
When a couple does use birth control and yet expects their children to remain chaste, it’s as if they’re saying, “You need to follow the Church’s teachings on sexuality outside of marriage, but we don’t need to follow them inside of marriage.”
On either side of the sacrament, chastity is a challenge. But in the words of our Holy Father, “It is through the cross that the family can attain the fullness of its being and the perfection of its love.”
Parents should not let their children date before they are 16 at least and forbid younger girls from dating older guys. They need to remember to be a parent first, and not a buddy. We have lots of buddies, but very few parents.
Parents also need to protect teens from online pornography. Put the computer in a high-traffic area in the house. Learn to check the history of Web sites visited on the computer, and put a filter on it.
Should a child make some mistakes, parents must be patient and not blame themselves. After all, who is the best parent in the universe? The Heavenly Father. Now look at the mistakes his children make. See his mercy as a model of patience.
It’s also important for parents to know that according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, the No. 1 influence — according to teens — that shapes their decisions when it comes to sex, is not the media or their peers, but their parents. So keep up the good work and keep the standards high.
If you do all of this, your teens with thank you. Please allow two to four decades for the thank-you note to arrive, though.
Q: What are the advantages and disadvantages you have as a young couple doing the chastity circuit?
Evert: I suppose a disadvantage is that while speaking at high schools, both Crystalina and I have been mistaken for students and threatened with detentions for being out of dress code.
The greatest advantage is that we can offer the teens a view from different angles. Being able to address difficult sexual issues from a male and female perspective is helpful. But perhaps more importantly, Crystalina is able to share how she had lost her virginity as a teen but turned her life around.
Meanwhile, I offer the perspective of one who recently married at the age of 27 as a virgin. We find that if teens cannot relate to one of us, they often find much in common with the other.
Q: How has your faith grown through your chastity ministry?
Evert: I remember one priest who said, “Whoever gives a talk on theology or morality without first spending an hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament — that person is full of himself.” So, the more we minister to the teens, the more we realize how much the fruit of our ministry depends upon prayer: Our own prayer lives and the prayers of so many others.
Each presentation we give, we ask the audience to pray for the next school we will speak to. We’ve also written letters to over 100 convents of nuns, asking them to keep our work in their prayers. We can always use everyone’s prayers.
Beyond that, I often think of the battle in Second Kings, verse 6, where a servant approaches Elisha and complains that their troops were overwhelmingly outnumbered. Elisha replied, “Fear not, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
He then prayed, “O Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes that he may see.” The servant immediately saw the mountain filled with fiery horses and chariots around Elisha, and these angels let them to complete victory.
So, before chastity talks, I often look out to the crowd of 1,400 high school students. Then, I recall the presence of 1,400 guardian angels, ready to intercede for them throughout the talk. Suddenly, you don’t feel so outnumbered in a public school auditorium.