By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
IOWA CITY – Katty Padilla discovered Jason Evert’s ChastityProject.org website about 10 years ago as a teenager living in Mexico. “I was one of those young people” looking for guidance, she told The Catholic Messenger. “I wanted to learn more about Theology of the Body.” She watched videos on the website and read Spanish translations of many of Evert’s books.
Now a member of St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville, the expectant mother was excited to hear Evert speak in person at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City. Padilla and her husband, Jorge Palacios, smiled as they chatted with Evert during a break between his two talks. More than 325 people attended the event, with teenagers making up about half the audience.
“Jason Evert is not a new name for those in Catholic circles,” St. Patrick’s pastor, Father Troy Richmond, told the audience before Evert’s “double feature” speaking engagement Sept. 10. The Scottsdale, Arizona-based author and Chastity Project.org co-founder has spoken on six continents and written more than 15 books, Father Richmond said.
Evert invited teenagers in the audience to sit up front during his first presentation, which focused on chastity. Although rates of teen sex have dropped in recent years, Evert observes that teenagers still feel pressure. Girls, in particular, may equate sex with love and feel obligated to perform in order to earn it. “If he really loves you, he doesn’t need that stuff because he still has you,” Evert said. “If he asks to see a naked photo of you, send him your completely bare hand waving goodbye, because that’s the only part of you he deserves to see.”
He encouraged young audience members not to push the boundaries of sexual activity before marriage and to embrace the dignity of themselves and others. Finding good friends, attending Mass and praying for Mary’s intercession can help. Chastity “is not about rules and trying not to go to hell; it’s about wanting heaven with the person you love.” He encouraged audience members of all ages to reject pornography, which is addictive and can lead users to view members of the opposite sex as objects. “Love can’t wait to give, lust can’t wait to get,” he advised.
People who feel like damaged goods don’t need to live with guilt and shame, he said. They can start over by going to confession, embracing their dignity and making different choices as did his wife, Crystalina. After a series of heartbreaks, she embraced chastity and later co-founded ChastityProject.org with her husband.
After the first talk, guests settled into the parish hall for a pulled pork sandwich dinner. High school student Gabby Jedlicka of St. Mary Parish in Solon told The Catholic Messenger she appreciated Evert’s use of real-world examples during the chastity talk. Jerzey Haluska, also a high schooler from Solon, appreciated Evert saying that chastity “is not a punishment; saving yourself is a gift, in a way.”
In the second talk, Evert offered his perspective on gender in today’s culture. He admitted that he doesn’t fit the male stereotype, joking that he finds NASCAR races boring and doesn’t like the taste of beer. He’s okay with that, because he believes masculinity is determined by biology and not by personality. However, he believes gender stereotypes can be damaging and cause people to question whether they are man- or woman-enough. He also believes it’s harmful to identify one’s body as something that needs fixing, as opposed to focusing on the feelings and issues that cause gender discordance.
Referencing St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and Pope Francis’ call to accompaniment, Evert encouraged the audience to approach gender issues with charity and clarity as opposed to dismissing or mocking someone experiencing gender discordance.
It’s okay not to know what to do when a loved one experiences gender discordance or identifies as transgender — it’s a complicated issue that goes far beyond pronouns, bathrooms and sports. Although the Church rejects gender as a choice, it embraces dialogue (https://tinyurl.com/ 2s478mhw). Listening with “reverent curiosity” is essential, Evert said. “Sometimes you’re not supposed to be the mouth of Christ. Sometimes you’re supposed to be his ears” and listen to people’s stories.
Evert offered examples and statistics about medical and surgical transitioning — suggesting these treatments don’t solve underlying issues and can be a threat to long-term health — and highlighted the complementary biological characteristics of women and men. It is helpful to share these ideas in the context of a safe, trusting relationship. A person experiencing gender discordance may be grateful later on if they realize that transitioning “wasn’t the answer.”
Before leading the audience in eucharistic adoration to end the evening, Evert encouraged anyone struggling with chastity or gender discordance to lay down their burdens before the Blessed Sacrament. The Eucharist is “the secret of love,” he said.
Knights of Columbus in Solon sponsored 60 attendees, including Lisa and Lee Connell, parents of adult children. They hoped to gain tools for discussion and to better relate to younger relatives. St. Patrick Parish paid for its students in the current or previous confirmation classes to attend.
Twelve priests heard confessions during dinner and adoration, including Father David Paintsil, parochial vicar of St. Mary Parish-Iowa City, who appreciated Evert’s take on chastity and Theology of the Body. “This program is needed in our time,” he said.
Evert also offered a presentation at Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport on Sept. 11 and planned to speak to Catholic school students in Iowa City, Davenport and Burlington later in the week.