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August 29, 2016

For more than a century, it's been known that religious practice leads to better mental health. However, a recent 15-year study of the link between suicide and church attendance among women in the United States came up with an astonishing finding: Although the overall suicide rate among American women between 45 and 64 jumped 80 per cent between 1999 and 2014, not a single Catholic woman of the 6,999 in the study group who attend daily Mass committed suicide.

The suicide rate of self-identified Catholic women in general is no different than the national average, said the study of nearly 90,000 women conducted between 1996 and 2010 and published recently by JAMA Psychiatry. Protestant women who attend weekly church services are far less likely to take their own lives than are non-churchgoing women. However, even they are seven times more likely to commit suicide than are Catholic women who regularly attend Sunday Mass.

The study's authors suggest that more frequent church attendance gives women "a form of meaningful social participation" that inoculates them against loneliness and isolation, two prominent factors contributing to suicide. However, does this explain the difference in the study between Catholic and Protestant women? Well, no.

Try a different hypothesis: Jesus Christ, the Lord of life, is fully present in the Eucharist. By consuming the Lord of life in Holy Communion, people partake so fully in divine life that it becomes almost unthinkable to kill oneself and God's life within. When a person receives the Eucharist daily or almost daily, suicide is a prospect that one would not even begin to consider.

Such an hypothesis would not be attractive to scientists. After all, it cannot be tested in any direct manner. However, to a person of eucharistic faith, it is the most reasonable explanation.

The U.S. study should not be an occasion for Catholic chest-thumping. Rather, it should lead us to fall prostrate in awe at the greatness of the incarnate God, whose love for humanity is so great that he gave his life and rose from the dead so that, even now, we can share in the fullness of his life.