The Greatest Freedom: A Reflection on James Foley

FoleyHe knelt in the sand with a shaved head, in the garb of a prisoner.  The image is heartbreaking and maddening, a cruel act of hatred.  As Americans and Catholics, how ought we respond to the murder of James Foley?

In life, James Foley was dedicated to pursuing the truth, embracing a dangerous career to do so.  For his country and for the sake of humanity, he communicated both suffering and beauty in the hope that good would come from what he recorded.  When he himself faced suffering, he did so peacefully, prayerfully, hopefully.  He wrote, “Mom, I’m strong.  I’m OK.  I should be home by Katie’s graduation.”

In defiance of the extremists’ attempt to strike us with fear, I will not watch the video of his murder that has so rapidly spread around the web.  This kind of curiosity indulges his killers’ desire to make a spectacle of his death.  It is undignified and does nothing to honor his memory.

James Foley lived and died as an American Catholic man and he ought to be esteemed as such.  He did not call out, but clenched his jaw and courageously faced death.  Although we cannot know what he thought in that moment, he wrote that he recited the rosary in captivity, slowly tracing prayers over each knuckle of his hands.

He wrote that it brought him an interior freedom, which his captors could never take away.

James Foley’s life and death are a testament to his character and to all who raised him: to his country, his religion, his family, his teachers, his friends.

Life as an American Catholic is one of relative ease, but it places upon our shoulders a burden of responsibility.  While we work and play, we must remember to pray, to read and write, to discuss real issues, to care for one another, to lift up all humanity through our lives.  We have opportunities to speak freely and to proclaim the truth – not just that of faith, but also of the beauty and suffering of humanity.

Each day, we must face with courage the little battles – cultural, political, social, moral, personal – in order to be strong if ever a great challenge arises.  Each day, we must stand with those who suffer persecution.  Each day, we must raise our eyes above our very small trials to see the hope that freedom and faith bring.  We are privileged to be both Catholic and American.

Let James Foley be an example to us all of one who lived, suffered, and died with the courage derived from a life of dedication to the truth.  Although we will never know what he thought as he knelt in the sand, we take comfort knowing he had often prayed these words:

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

Surely these prayers, uttered as his only hope in the darkness of a prison, were answered.  The Blessed Mother was with him at the hour of his death and nothing, not even the taunts of his murderers, can take away that freedom.

May James Foley rest in peace, may he be freed from death.



Sources: Foley, James.  “Phone call home.”



  • Jerry Carr

    Very nice written article

  • ToniMac

    Yes, James was absolutely a martyr….He was kidnapped and brought to their attention because he was an American. He stood by his faith however, which certainly contributed to his death. James could have bargained for his life at the end in desperation to survive, but he would not compromise. He prayed actively and sustained his prayers throughout his ordeal and morally upheld his fellow grieving and suffering prisoners with courageous fortitude and supportive encouragement. He displayed a selflessness throughout his life, sacrificing a normal, quiet life with a life that exposed evil in the hopes of changing it for the better. Finally he happened to be Catholic which fulfills the criteria for sainthood formally speaking. Informally I certainly believe many non-Carholics are candidates for “officially recognized” sainthood, such as Martin Luther King, who also died pursuing truth and justice, actively bringing about a better world, even at great risk to himself and of course a great belief in God.

    Finally the others such as Steven Sotloff may well be as as virtuous, if not more so, but because they are not Catholic, the formal proceedings of the Church can not take place, but this in no way diminishes their ‘rank’ in heaven.

  • Linda Green

    Why are you using such a politically correct word as extremists? Why not call them as they really are. Evil Terrorists!

    We are at war with Terrorists, not Extremists. And the Southern Border wideopen in the U.S. is insane!. The border needed to be closed long time ago. There are already Terrorists cells in the U.S. Wake up to reality, people.

  • Diane

    Romans 8:28
    “28 We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”

    God does not cause evil, but he will permit it to occur to bring about a greater good.

    The courage shown by James Foley at his moment of death was compelling and edifying ; it was a greater good inconceivable to his murderers. He loved God, and thus even in the midst of an act commited by men saturated in evil, James’ calm trust in the Lord elevated him from a hellish place and certain death to eternal and certain life. There is no greater good for a child of God than this.

    You see, this kind of courage and calm is not produced by mere will. It is the external flowering of a faithful devoted interior life. You see James Foley prayed the rosary. According to his own account, when he was in captivity he prayed the rosary on his fingers.

    The rosary, prayerful meditation on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ through the eyes of Mary, helps us see the love and sacrifice given to and made for us. It causes us to appreciate that, God, creator and lover of ALL mankind took the greatest evil of all, the killing of the creator by His creatures, and turned it into a greater good- the redemption of those very creatures from eternal death to eternal life.

    James Foley knew that Mary always points us to her son and the consolation he promises. She helps us make our way to His glory if we ask. James clearly asked her, she clearly responded to him with the same love, devotion, and loving presence she gave our Lord through out his life and during his horrible death on that cross.

    It reminds me of the presence of Mary at the equally brutal death of Father Maximilian Kolbe, a saint and a Catholic priest held at Auschwitz. Fr. Kolbe spent his life in devotion to the mother of God. Her prayers, intercession and finally her presence at his death strengthened Fr. Kolbe as I believe it did James Foley.

    Fr. Kolbe volunteered to die in the place of another prisoner. That prisoner, a man with a wife and children, was selected at random to be put in a starvation bunker with 11 other men in retribution and warning about further escapes. A greater good that was dismissed as insanity by his murderers.

    “In his prison cell, Kolbe celebrated Mass each day and sang hymns with the prisoners. He led the other condemned men in song and prayer and encouraged them by telling them they would soon be with Mary in Heaven.

    Each time the guards checked on him, he was standing or kneeling in the middle of the cell and looking calmly at those who entered.

    After two weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe remained alive. The guards wanted the bunker emptied and they gave Kolbe a lethal injection of carbolic acid. Some who were present….. say that he raised his left arm and calmly waited for the injection. ” (Wikipedia)

    St. Kolbe was devoted to our Lord and His mother. His bravery and that of James Foley can only be a result of a truly strong interior life of prayer; An interior life greatly aided by the love and guidance of she who gave herself completely and without reservation to the will of God. A greater good that brought salvation into the world.

    If we could know the story of James Foley’s days of captivity and the final moments of his life I suspect it would be as internally blessed and wrapped in the love and surety of Christ’s divine presence as that of Fr. Kolbe’s. Again greater good is delivered.

    The evil intended by this act cannot be undone; but the result of the act can be and was transformed.

    I do not presume to speak for James Foley and say that he forgave his killers. But I think he probably did, or at least tried to. Thus he gave to God that which is justly His alone- he gave God the right of vengence, leaving his own heart free of hate and open to the love of the Father. His was an act of charity that helps those of us see God’s healing presence in even the darkest acts of man.

    As hard as it is to do, we, as Christians, are commanded by Christ to forgive and pray for our enemies. If we do not they may pay with eternal separation from God, otherwise known as hell. A fate that should never be wished on anyone, no matter how vile his actions. But, if we heed John Foley’s example, of courage and trust in God’s promises, then we too will have free hearts open to God’s healing love. We will have a chance to cope and prayerfully overcome this time of heartache and spiritual trial. Thank you James for bringing us this greater good.

    John Foley, humbly and calmly, paid the ultimate price and silently gave God the glory and the last word.

    Romans 8:28

    28 We KNOW that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.

  • Francis

    Our prayers are with the family who need Gods grace to endure this great loss. May our Lord Jesus grant his soul eternal rest in his kingdom.

  • Wendy Tarkka

    He is an inspiration to me and everone who tries to be true to the faith. God bless and reward him. ETERNAL REST GRANT UNTO HIM OH LORD, MAY THE SOULS OF THE FAITHFUL DEPARTED REST IN PEACE. AMEN.



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