He 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.”