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James Foley’s Letter Home Has an Important Message for Us, Too

© Marquette Magazine

Marge Fenelon - published on 08/26/14

How to release yourself and loved ones from prisons of your own making.

James Foley’s captors confiscated all of his written letters while he was in captivity, but he managed to get a letter out, via a fellow hostage whom he asked to memorize it. Soon after his release in June, the young man called Jim’s mom and dictated the letter to her. The family published it yesterday on a Facebook page they created during his captivity. It is linked below.

First, I’m touched that Foley’s fellow hostage was able to retain it, considering his own circumstances. No doubt he was anxious to see his own family, and alert to the possibility that something could go awry with his release and journey home.

Second, I’m touched by the letter itself. It’s completely centered on Foley’s family—especially his siblings—and there is little mention of himself save for a few lines to assure their worried hearts.

What does Foley tell his siblings? He expresses his pride in them, but foremost he relates the memories that he clung to while imprisoned. A game of Werewolf. Chasing a brother around the kitchen counter. When things like that happen in our own families, we take them for granted—insignificant snippets of daily life that will pass and be forgotten.

Little do we know the vital importance of those “insignificant” moments. They mean more than we could ever imagine, whether we’re ever imprisoned, tortured, and beheaded like James Foley or we go about our mundane lives without a ripple.

The simple times matter.

The experiences we have as children become embedded in our minds and hearts, whether we’re aware of it or not. They become part of us—for better or worse. We need to release the worse ones and cling to the better ones because, someday, they may be all we have.

So, think twice if you’re estranged from a sibling (or any loved one). Estrangement is also a prison, in which we torture ourselves over and over again with prideful accusations and stubborn assumptions. We mentally punish those from whom we’re estranged by withholding from them our love and forgiveness. James Foley’s prison was devoid of compassion, and the prison of estrangement is, too.

Time passes quickly, especially when we’ve locked ourselves away. Like the Foley family, we never know where our road will take us or what the journey may include. People move away, accidents happen, folks become ill, they die. Then it’s too late to tell them that we still can remember and appreciate the good times. It’s too late to tell them that they really do mean something to us, and that we value who they are, after all.

I hope you’ll read and meditate on James Foley’s letter home. I hope it sinks deeply into your heart and that it will urge you to let go of whatever it is that separates you from whomever it is you’ve distanced yourself. Truthfully, I hope it shakes you up.

Don’t wait for a letter home from prison. Worse, don’t wait until it’s too late for any letter. Don’t write a letter at all. Tell the people you love how much and what you appreciate about them. Tell them to their face and let them know that you love them.

James Foley couldn’t release himself from prison, but you can.

Marge Fenelonis a Catholic author, columnist, and speaker and a regular guest on Catholic radio. She’s written several books about Marian devotion and Catholic family life, including Strengthening Your Family: a Catholic Approach to Holiness at Home (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011) and Imitating Mary: Ten Marian Virtues for the Modern Mom (Ave Maria Press, 2013). Find out more about Marge at

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