How do we navigate these tough topics as parents and grandparents? What should we be saying to our children?
Many young people are wanting straight answers to tough questions about love, dating, and relationships, but they struggle to find the answers. Parents and grandparents oftentimes don’t even know where to begin when it comes to talking to their children about dating and chastity. No matter the issue, living a life of virtue and holiness is challenging. It’s also becoming more difficult communicating a message of purity to young people with a culture that promotes promiscuity and living a life of “If it feels good, do it.”
Jason Evert, an international Catholic speaker and author, has a mission to tackle these subjects head-on, providing answers rooted in Catholic truth. Evert has a master’s degree in theology and degrees in counseling and theology. He and his wife run Chastity Project and its website, chastity.com, the podcast Lust is Boring, and lead an international alliance of young people who promote purity in more than 40 countries. Evert spoke at the SEEK23 Conference for college students in St. Louis in January and is giving two talks on Feb. 6 at St. Mary Parish in Alton starting at 6 p.m. (go to chastity.com/purified for tickets). Catholic Times Editor, Andrew Hansen, spoke with Evert last month.
Let’s start with contraception and the Church’s position against it. This is one teaching that not only does the culture disagree with the Church’s position, but so many Catholics as well. Explain why the Church teaches what she does, and how do we convince young people to not use contraception?
A lot of people want to know why the Church is against contraception. It’s not so much the Church is against something as the Church is for something, for God’s plan for human love. The Church’s teaching on sex is pretty simple: Love, marriage, sex, and babies go together and in that order, and when we start to flip those around and change them, civilization starts to crumble, and so God has joined together life and love, babies and bonding.
The Church is not saying that parents shouldn’t plan their families. But sometimes responsible parenthood means being open to more children. So, what contraception does in a certain sense is saying, “I want bonding with you, but I don’t want babies with you.” But, what if we did the opposite? “I want babies with you, but I don’t want bonding with you.” We’d obviously see there is a distortion there like, “I would like to make love to you, but I don’t want to look at you because I want to avoid any emotional entanglement that might ensue from this because I want to use you as an incubator for my offspring”… (We’d say), “OK, that guy is weird.” What contraception is doing is saying that I want the bonding, but I don’t want the lifegiving potential.
So, God has already created in a woman’s body seasons each month, the fertility and infertility. It’s not necessary to shut down the woman’s fertility with chemicals and barriers. What is needed is for us to understand the woman’s body. What Natural Family Planning taught me is that my wife’s body is perfect. She doesn’t need drugs, pills, or shots. She needs to be understood because if we can understand her fertility, then instead of suppressing it with chemicals to conform to our desires, we can conform our desires to the perfect way her body has already been created.
Society, especially young people, paint the Catholic Church as the church of “no” when it comes to sex, certain dating things, IVF, living together before marriage, and we just discussed contraception. How do we respond to that and teach young people that what the Church teaches is actually freeing?
God’s plan for human love is not a litany of prohibitions. How we can communicate this is to ask people, “What do you really want in a relationship? Do you want a love that is free or coerced?” “I want a love that is free.” “Do you want a love that is total or half-hearted?” “I want total love.” “Do you want a love that is faithful or one with hooking up and friends with benefits?” “I want a love that is faithful.” “Do you want a love that is life giving?” “Yeah, yeah.” “OK, so you want a love that is free, total, faithful, fruitful — those are the wedding vows.”
The total gift of the body should correspond to the total gift of the person. The total gift of the person is marriage, and your body should correspond with that. So, all the Church is trying to give you is what you want! So, what we are doing when we disagree with the Church is we’re disagreeing with the desires of our own heart.
You have said, “I think for young people, they are being told everything they are not supposed to do when it comes to dating and relationships, but nobody is talking to them about what they are supposed to do when it comes to dating.” What are they supposed to do?
What we have to teach is dating etiquette. What is the purpose of dating? It’s to find a spouse. It’s like getting on a freeway with only two exits: breakup and marriage. If that is the reality, what is the point of committing to anybody unless you can see this relationship potentially going the distance? So, having more intentionality with dating. I find that young people, they love to hear this stuff. What are the specifics? How do I ask her out? And all that stuff because it’s not enough to tell them what not to do. The reason they don’t know how to date is because when you look at the culture, we have this culture of single people who pretend like they’re dating, the dating people behave like they’re married, and the married people seem to think they are single. Everything is out of order, and it’s because the parents forgot how to date each other. So, they (children) never saw their own parents pursuing each other in love, going on weekly date nights.
This is why parents should put their marriage first, before their children?
Putting your marriage first is putting your kids first. As much as it gags them out to see Mom and Dad kiss, or hug, or be affectionate, they need to see it. It is so good for their mental health to see that, the safety and stability that creates in their hearts of knowing that Mom and Dad are a united front. They often say the best thing you can do for your kids is to love your spouse.
Parents don’t even know where to begin when it comes to talking to their kids about dating and chastity. What should they be saying?
One, get over your insecurities about talking to your kids about sexuality because if you do not speak up, the world will fill the void of your silence with a very contrary message. Obviously, it needs to be age appropriate. But there is going to stuff the world throws at your kids and you got to see that this is a teachable moment. I took my kids to an NBA basketball game and one of the cheerleaders was male, dressed up as a female doing all the female dance moves and my boys are like, “What’s going on there?” I’m like, “Well, I didn’t expect to have to address gender dysphoria on the way home from the basketball game, but let’s go there,” — and pastorally and lovingly explaining that situation.
So, see those teachable moments, dive into them, and give the kids formation even in subjects you didn’t want to cover yet. Be bold and age appropriate.
What is a grace of the sacrament of marriage that you never expected, or one you discovered many years into marriage?
One of the functions of marriage is the sanctification of the spouses and one of the ways God does that is He brings your faults to the surface, like oil and water. Before you’re married, you’re thinking, “I’m a pretty good catch. I’m patient, I’m forgiving.” Then, you get married, and you realize, “I’m a jerk. I’m unforgiving, impatient.” So, one of the surprises is the sanctification that comes through the sacrament because the children and the spouse, they’re like a sandpaper of sanctity constantly rubbing off those rough edges.
What’s one thing you want someone struggling with an addiction to pornography to hold onto in the midst of that struggle?
Whether it is male or female, because I am meeting more and more young women who are struggling with the same things too, realize this isn’t what you ultimately want. I heard of one guy who was addicted to all this stuff, and he finally confessed this to a Christian brother, and the Christian guy said to him, “Well, if what you want to do is look at pornography and all that stuff, then go ahead and do it.” And he said, “No, that’s not what I really want to do.” And his friend looked at him and said, “Exactly.” It was this watershed moment for him that maybe there is still something good in him that desires something noble, sacrificial, beautiful, and pure.
So, pornography is this counterfeit to the desires that we really long for. So, get accountability. Get some software on your computer, be able to find a good spiritual director, talk to some brothers and sisters about this stuff. Don’t try to go lone ranger to win this thing. On our website, chastity.com, we’ve got books for the guys and girls, resources, apps, software, router recommendations — all kinds of stuff. This is a battle you cannot afford to lose. Your whole vocation is at stake here. I know it’s difficult, but it’s more difficult envisioning your life 10 years from now still stuck in the same stuff. Trying to beat this thing on your own and winning it isn’t working. It’s because you aren’t supposed to beat this on your own. Find some accountability, and you’ll have the victory.
When it comes to transgenderism, as people of Catholic faith, how do we communicate with people who do think they are the opposite sex?
A lot of times we think, “What do we need to say? What is the silver bullet that can explain to them why puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and top surgery is not the answer for them.” What we need to do is listen to these individuals, meaning enter into their lives, go to the movies, have a beer, have a coffee, get to know these people and know their story because what we need to do is enter this conversation with a posture of reverent curiosity about this dysphoria. When did you start feeling this? Thank you sharing that with me. I’m sure that must have been really hard. What has that been like? Where is this coming from?
The reason I say we have to listen is because a boy came to me, and said he’s trans. We had a long conversation. It turns out he has two older sisters and two younger sisters who can do no wrong. They are loved, and everything he does for his mom and dad is not enough. He’s always the black sheep. I said to him, “Do you think if you were born a girl, you would be loved the way your sisters are loved?” He said, “I know I would have.” You can see that there is this unmet legitimate need that has found an outlet through this expression of gender dysphoria. Everyone has their own story. Our job is to make these individuals understand that the Church sees them, we realize they didn’t choose to feel this way, God loves them, He has a plan for them, and then we have to hold one hand to them, one holds onto reality, and not let go of either one. Walk with them. Accompany them. Not only with the love, but also with the truth.
What about speaking with people who do support transgenderism? How do we talk to them that this isn’t God’s plan?
A lot of times they are given this idea of false compassion like, “If you don’t accept these people, you’re rejecting them, and they’re going to commit suicide.” Well, look at the suicide rates of people who go through puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and surgeries. About 10 years after the surgery, their suicide rate is 19 times higher than the general population. If you isolate out the female to male transitioners, the suicide rate is 40 times higher than the general population. It’s because surgery is not the answer to these deeper mental health issues. We need to be affirming the person, not the dysphoria.
We just came out with a book called Male, Female, Other — A Catholic Guide to Understanding Gender. Whether they experience dysphoria, a kid who wants top surgery, or you’ve got a nephew with this, this book will help to explain where is this coming from. How do I give solid answers, but most importantly, how do I pastorally accompany these people with sensitivity giving them the truth that this is not the answer? This is not a left versus right issue. You look right now, there are 43,000 de-transitioners on the Reddit website screaming from the rooftops that “I did this, it was not the answer, hit the brakes.” Lawsuits are on the way, and I think things are going to change, but there is going to be a lot of damage done, unfortunately.
Answers taken from Andrew Hansen’s interview with Jason Evert on Dive Deep, the official podcast of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. To hear more from their conversation, including what gives Evert hope and inspiration about the future, go to dio.org/podcast or search Dive Deep on all the major podcast platforms.