James Foley – a man of prayer and purpose


For about 2 years now, a brutal military group called ISIS has been terrorizing the citizens of Syria. They have exploited the civil war in that country to take over large areas of land, and confiscate weapons that used to belong to the government. Recently, they have crossed the border into Iraq, and taken over a large amount of land in that country as well. They have declared the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Recently, a video emerged in the media of the execution by beheading of an American photojournalist by ISIS. The journalist’s name was James Foley. You probably heard of this – it received wide play in the news media, and comment from the President. This article is not so much about the brutality of ISIS (although we should all take note of that and be appalled by such unreasonable evil done in God’s name), but about the victim, James Foley. He is a model of both prayer and purpose.

Mr. Foley was a Catholic. His faith meant a lot to him. He was also a graduate of Marquette University in Michigan. He had been captured and imprisoned previously, during the civil war in Libya. He wrote in the Marquette Magazine about how prayer helped him throughout his time in captivity. You can read the entire article at this link:


James Foley drew strength through prayer. He wrote:

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 (another prisoner) 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.

Later on in the article, Foley recounted a conversation he was able to have with his mother on the phone while in captivity:

“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

Here, we see the effect of prayer on a man who was in a very desperate situation. His prayers gave him very definite power, namely the power of strengthened focus and of connection to his loved ones. Prayer will have the same effect on us as well. Prayer focuses the soul on God. Prayer takes the focus away from the self, and puts it back on God. When we pray, we acknowledge God’s power to intercede on our behalf. We can offer to God our praise and adoration. We can thank God for all the blessings that He has given us. Simply put, prayer helps us to move God to His proper place as first in our lives. This serves to focus everything, especially when we are in a suffering state.

Prayer focuses, but it also unites. God becomes present in the soul when we invite him to enter. Just as good conversation with another person draws the two together as one, so does good prayer. I am glad that James was praying the Rosary. The maternal care of our Blessed Mother must have been there for him. The Rosary is a great prayer to unify our hearts with the hearts of Jesus and Mary. Mr. Foley’s prayer also connected him to his family. The prayers of his family and friends connected with him across seas and continents. The bond of prayer was almost a tangible thing for James Foley.

In addition to being a witness to the power of prayer, James Foley was also a witness to the power of purpose. James wrote in his Marquette article:

With Marquette, I went on some volunteer trips to South Dakota and Mississippi and learned I was a sheltered kid and the world had real problems. I came to know young people who wanted to give their hearts for others. Later I volunteered in a Milwaukee junior high school up the street from the university and was inspired to become an inner-city teacher.

Here was a man who was convinced that his life had direction. Through the experiences of education and of service, Mr. Foley found a direction for his life. He was awoken to the existence of problems beyond his own sheltered life. He resolved to be a positive force for change. This led him to ultimately become a teacher, and then a photojournalist. This sense of purpose must have enabled him to endure suffering. Purpose often does help us endure suffering, as it gives suffering both a meaning and a context. After his captivity in Libya, Mr. Foley could have just stayed home in America and had a successful career. But instead he chose to go back into the warzone. For that, he would be deprived of his mortal life. But, even in that situation, I am sure that Foley bore it well. It was all part of a bigger plan – a bigger purpose.

We, too, can learn much from Mr. James Foley’s example of a purpose-driven life. In a way, this entire blog is about purpose. Our purpose is not the purpose we devise for our lives. Rather, our purpose is found in the mind of our loving God. We work out our life’s purpose in a semi-mysterious way. It is not as if God calls us on a red phone and relays to us our life plan. Through love of neighbor, through prayer, and through the Church, we come to encounter Christ. This Christ then unfolds a road for us to follow. Not unlike the street on a hot day that seems to disappear in the direct sunlight, our path can be hard to discern. But the most important thing is knowing that God is nearby. We need not be afraid, for He is with us. Such a truth sets us free!

James Foley sets an excellent example for anyone who is discerning their vocation.

There is another excellent article written on James Foley that I would like to link to:


God bless!


About erievocations

I am a priest in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Erie, PA. I am an Assistant Vocations Director, tasked with the promotion of seminary recruitment. My blog deals with discernment of vocations, especially to the priesthood, as well as our universal call to be holy.
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