How many times have we heard the phrase “Never again”? How often have we trotted out that old chestnut: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”?
“I don’t want to have on my conscience that I was complicit in something as horrendous as this simply by being quiet,” is how Washington, D.C., Cardinal Donald Wuerl felt about the persecution being wielded against Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria.
As we applaud Miley Cyrus for not twerking on MTV’s Video Music Awards and Beyonce for her ode to feminism, and argue over whether the Emmys are sexist or not, a moment of silent reflection is in order, to recollect our consciences, choices and priorities.
The execution of American journalist James Foley at the hands of the terrorist group ISIL obligates us to take notice. In a letter a fellow prisoner memorized for Foley’s family, Foley said: “I know you are thinking of me and praying for me. And I am so thankful. I feel you all, especially when I pray. I pray for you to stay strong and to believe. I really feel I can touch you even in this darkness when I pray.”
In an interview, Foley once recounted his life in a Libyan jail during an earlier imprisonment. A few days in, he heard a knock on the wall of his cell. It was the muffled voice of an American contractor, also detained there. They read the Bible and prayed together. “In a very calm voice, he’d read me Scripture once or twice a day,” Foley told me in 2011. “Then I’d pray to stay strong. I’d pray to soften the hearts of our captors. I’d pray to God to lift the burdens we couldn’t handle. And I’d pray that our moms would know we were OK.”
Foley was not alone in his faith in the power of prayer and our obligations to truth. Just this past week, Pope Francis met with Paul Bhatti, the brother of Shahbaz Bhatti, the slain minister for minorities in Pakistan. Before he was killed, Bhatti talked about the threats he received for his work against blasphemy laws: “I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ, who has given his own life for us. I know what is the meaning of cross, and I am following of the cross, and I am ready to die for a cause.”
That’s real faith.
“[T]he spectacle of tragedy has always filled men, not with despair but with a sense of hope and exaltation,” writes Whittaker Chambers, whom National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr. described as “the most important American defector from Communism.”
Chambers asserts: “Tragedy occurs when a human soul awakes and seeks, in suffering and pain, to free itself from crime, violence, infamy, even at the cost of life. The struggle is the tragedy – not defeat or death.”
Do we hear the screams? Will we respond with prayer and action? Will we recognize the truth about the dignity of every man and woman, of whatever or no faith? Will we never again be silent as evil is happening? Or will we be complicit by our silence, distracted rather than living the truth that men and women of our day are dying for? Will we sinners strive to be saints and heralds of truth by the very way we live, by what we choose to do and say?
• Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.