James Foley, may he rest in peace – as he surely does

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The Islamic State jihadists have executed freelance journalist James Foley and posted a video of his beheading. In doing so they have brought us back 1800 years to remind us of what it sometimes costs to be a Christian and of what any Christian might at any time be called on to do – to sacrifice his life for his faith.

Is Foley a martyr in the truest sense? Surely he is, and is now with God in Heaven. It may take time to verify but you and I can be absolutely sure that the jihadists of the Islamic State gave James Foley the option of saving his life by accepting their utterly false and evil vision of both man and God – just as the Romans tempted the Christian martyrs of their day.

He died brutally at their hands, not because he was an American but because the was a Christian first, who would not abandon his faith

Foley, just 40, became their prisoner two years ago while covering the conflict in Syria. Prior to that he had covered the conflict in Libya and also found himself captive there. In that captivity he revealed to us the depths of his faith in an account which he wrote for a magazine published by his old university, Marquette, in Wisconsin.

James Foley, may he rest in peace, is an example to all Christians and an example to all who would be Christian. He shows us that bearing the Cross of Christ is part of the deal – and that this, even in the age which we consider modern and enlightened, 1800 years after the early Christians were marched into the arenas, may call for the ultimate sacrifice.

Foley wrote this account of a moment in his earlier captivity in Libya, revealing to us the virtues of a true Christian, as well as the meaning and the of faith and prayer.

I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. 
I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused.

Clare and I prayed together out loud. It felt energizing to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone. …

One night, 18 days into our captivity, some guards brought me out of the cell. … Upstairs in the warden’s office, a distinguished man in a suit stood and said, “We felt you might want to call your families.”

I said a final prayer and dialed the number. My mom answered the phone. “Mom, Mom, it’s me, Jim.”

“Jimmy, where are you?”

“I’m still in Libya, Mom. I’m sorry about this. So sorry.” …

“They’re having a prayer vigil for you at Marquette. Don’t you feel our prayers?” she asked.

“I do, Mom, I feel them,” and I thought about this for a second. Maybe it was others’ prayers strengthening me, keeping me afloat.

The official made a motion. I started to say goodbye. Mom started to cry. “Mom, I’m strong. I’m OK. I should be home by Katie’s graduation,” which was a month away.

“We love you, Jim!” she said. Then I hung up.

I replayed that call hundreds of times in my head — my mother’s voice, the names of my friends, her knowledge of our situation, her absolute belief in the power of prayer. She told me my friends had gathered to do anything they could to help. I knew I wasn’t alone.

My last night in Tripoli, I had my first Internet connection in 44 days and was able to listen to a speech Tom Durkin gave for me at the Marquette vigil. To a church full of friends, alums, priests, students and faculty, I watched the best speech a brother could give for another. It felt like a best man speech and a eulogy in one. It showed tremendous heart and was just a glimpse of the efforts and prayers people were pouring forth. If nothing else, prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom, an inner freedom first and later the miracle of being released during a war in which the regime had no real incentive to free us. It didn’t make sense, but faith did.

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