It isn't often that chastity lecturers get standing ovations in today's high schools.
But it happens all the time in Jason Evert's work.
Currently a full-time apologist with Catholic Answers, Jason Evert is the author of the book Pure Love and is currently writing the sequel to Did Adam and Eve Have Belly Buttons with Matt Pinto. He spoke recently with Register features correspondent Tim Drake.
Drake: Where are you from originally?
I was born in Florida but raised in Arizona. My father is in real estate; my mother is a nurse. They have been married for 30 years. I was raised in Catholic family, and have an older brother and a younger sister.
Was there ever a time when your faith wasn't important to you?
Yes. In high school I was just going through the motions. It was toward the end of high school, after confirmation, under the leadership of a good priest and youth minister that I started to come around.
I was all set to go to Arizona State University. I had enrolled and had my dorm roommates all set up, but I wasn't excited about it. I had some friends that were attending Franciscan University of Steubenville, and so I decided to swing by [Steubenville] while on a family vacation. At the last minute, I decided to attend Steubenville. I applied, enrolled and was taking classes all within the same month of August. As soon as I was there, something clicked and I knew that it was where I was supposed to be.
Ninety percent of your talks are now on chastity. What is it that you tell young people?
Many abstinence programs are based on fear. They might say, “Imagine how many bad things can happen if you have sex. Just say no!” It tends to be a very negative approach.
I do something different.
I try to show them the beauty of God's plan for life and love. I show them that God is concerned about our love lives beyond merely making sure that we don't go too far. I show them that God is not down on sex by showing them the beauty of the Church's teaching on human sexuality. They very much expect to be either bored or that they will be made to feel shamed, dirty or guilty. I don't go there to condemn them, but to call them and challenge them, and I have found that they absolutely embrace the message.
Why do you think that is?
Because they are so used to being told that they can't control themselves and that they are going to do it anyway. They're used to adults presenting them with double standards. Teens are saturated by sex, they aren't satisfied by much, and they don't know what the problem is.
They constantly want something more, something better.
We have many disappointed and unhappy young people because what the world has told them will never satisfy their deepest yearnings. It's captivating for them to see a man in his mid-20s trying to live a chaste life and being happy about it. They think abstinence will kill them by their 20s.
I read once that the average teen will see 9,000 illicit sexual images on television per year. Imagine if a teen saw an image of a saint for every time they saw the image of a half-naked model on a magazine cover. I have 45 minutes to try to combat all of these images. That is why it's important for us to try to set up clubs in the high schools, a Web site and other resources that create an environment where it is easy to be good.
Do you feel the message is having an impact?
Certainly. While in Louisiana recently, seven high schools in a row gave us standing ovations.
One was an all-boys high school.
Another good measure of our effectiveness is the correspondence we receive. We receive more than 500 chastity e-mail messages per month.
I just recently received an e-mail message from a girl in Idaho who had been very sexually active. She wrote to say that she has been abstinent since my talk, six months ago, and has said a rosary every night since then.
I also recall a message from a young man in Louisiana. The night of my talk, he had been planning to go to the motel with his girlfriend to celebrate eight months of dating. She had been pressuring him to give her the gift of his virginity. After my talk, instead of calling the motel, he called his girlfriend to say he couldn't go to the motel. He wrote me to tell me that he is so happy that he is still a virgin.
Quite often, following a talk, I'll learn of teens who were on the border of giving away their virginity. Those e-mails are a real confirmation to me when life on the road gets long.
What role did the Franciscan University of Steubenville play in the development of your faith?
I spent five years there and it was extraordinary. It was a time of great spiritual growth in my life. The environment, the faculty and the spirituality of the campus all contributed to my faith. I graduated in 1997 with undergraduate degrees in theology and counseling, and a minor in philosophy. I finished my master's in theology 10 months later.
What led to your work at Catholic Answers?
I landed an internship with Catholic Answers during the summer after my undergraduate studies and I loved it. After spending three months with them, they asked me to stay. So, while I was studying for my master's degree in Ohio, I was answering inquirers' e-mail questions sent to Catholic Answers.
What are some of the most common questions you would receive about the Catholic faith?
From an apologetic standpoint, sadly, the most common questions are liturgical questions from bewildered Catholics. People will write to describe what is taking place in their Church and they wonder if it's according to the rubrics or not. Thankfully, my colleague, James Akin, came out with a book titled Mass Confusion that answers many of their questions. That book has been very helpful to Catholics and to staff in answering people's questions. Aside from liturgical questions, we received a lot of questions about purgatory, the papacy and Mary. Answering such questions was excellent training for me.
At the time we were receiving up to 50 e-mail questions per day. Because of the overwhelming demand, we have had to shut the e-mail service down.
Do you have any favorite stories from those you've counseled over the years?
I remember corresponding with one young girl whose father was a Baptist pastor. She e-mailed me because she had problems understanding the communion of saints and Mary's role as co-redemptrix. We corresponded for a period of months, and then weeks went by when I didn't hear anything from her. I wondered what was going on.
When she finally wrote back, she said, “Well I did it, I've begun to pray to St. Thérèse of Lisieux, but I don't know how to break the news to my dad.” She e-mailed me with her profound thanks for introducing her to this whole family that she had never known, and explained how this had brought her closer to Christ.
Tell me about your forthcoming books.
The first edition of Pure Love was a 32-page booklet of questions and answers from teens on sexuality.
It just whets the appetite. My next book will be the top 100 questions that teens are asking, and the Church's teachings on those questions. This should be published by the end of the year and a Jehovah's Witness [rebuttal] book will be ready this September.