I recently received a wedding invitation in the mail — it’s honestly been a while since we’ve been invited to something that didn’t involve a group email or text exchange. But the specialness of the occasion called for a special way of reaching out — print. In the midst of all the information and messaging we receive every day, the invitation stood out. We have the same opportunity with our magazines — they can serve as an invitation to celebration and relationship. Just as that wedding invitation invited my husband and me to a celebration of our friends’ love and commitment, our publications call people to come to know or renew their relationship with Christ and their brothers and sisters in faith — Christ’s Church.
And we need to reach out and invite people in. We’re in the midst of a steep decline in Mass attendance — the gradual attrition of the past few years sped up during the pandemic. The number of Catholics who say they attend Mass every week has dropped to 17%, according to CARA. Those who say they never attend went from 18% to 29%, which is a whopping 62% change. (Pillarcatholic.com) This is reflected in the October counts of dioceses to whom we’ve spoken — the numbers of people in the pews dramatically declined from Oct. 2019 to Oct. 2021.
We’re also in the middle of another disturbing trend that is marching along in correlation with the decline in Mass attendance: a growth in sadness, especially among the young. A survey of U.S. high school students in 2021 found that the percentage of teens who felt persistently sad or hopeless had grown from 46.6% in 2019 to 56.5% in 2021. Consider that back in 2004, the percentage was 33.9%. The decline in emotional health reflected in these data is alarming.
Various factors are posited as contributing to this phenomenon: social media, a lack of actual socialization, an increasingly negative news cycle that can feel overwhelming to anyone, particularly a teen who is already at a time of life known for angst and self-discovery.
I would suggest that, in losing our connection to church, we lose our connection to a socialization that is rooted in good and that fosters a connection to our Creator and to each other as brothers and sisters in faith. We lose a driving force toward altruism — toward doing something for the other instead of just the self. Teens are wired for altruism — you see it over and over in their willingness to volunteer. But they are becoming more and more isolated from communities that nourish that sense of giving.
In this moment of sadness and despair, what better invitation could we extend to young people in particular than the invitation to true joy? No matter what life throws at us, Christ is the answer. Our own families and communities have become mission territory — it is up to us to lead each other to the answer to sadness — to Christ. Borrowing from St. Teresa of Ávila, “Christ has no body but yours …”
Why magazines as invitations? Because people read them. Especially young people. According to the 2021 Magazine Media Factbook, 88% of U.S. adults have read a magazine in the last six months — 90% of adults under the age of 25 have done so. Sixty-four percent of readers under 35 say they love the touch and feel of print magazines, a trend that is also borne out in the book industry, where paper books outsell ebooks by four to one.
Of course, our parishes are the places where these invitations bear fruit — through the warmth of community, the beauty of the Mass, and most importantly, the Eucharist. But first, we have to get people in the door. This is Christ’s moment, let us be his voice — we can help connect people to Jesus and his body here on earth, his Church.