The tragedy in Tucson, while still a major news item, has slowly been moving from the front pages to the back pages of the newspapers. It is no long the first story you hear on radio or see on TV news programs or news websites. Despite that fact I can’t seem to get the story out of my mind.
Stories like these take me back to my days as a news reporter when I covered my share of senseless crimes involving innocent people who were simply going about the business of living. This time though it was more than just feeling empathy for those involved or connected to the shooting. It was more than remembering the challenges of covering such a sad event. Thanks to the profound witness of one of the victims, federal Judge John Roll, a devout Catholic, the incident had me thinking about how much more I need to do in the work of self-sacrifice and evangelization.
Nearly two weeks after the January 8th massacre a surveillance video of the rampage shows that federal Judge John Roll apparently died while saving the life of another man. The judge was one of the six people killed when accused gunman Jared Loughner opened fire, critically injuring Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. According to published reports in the Wall Street Journal, an investigator with the Pima County Sheriff’s office said the video shows the 63 year old judge pushing another man to the ground as the shooting started. Both men were hit, but the other victim survived. The Journal quotes the law enforcement official as saying “it’s pretty evident Judge Roll was a hero.” Laying down one’s life for a friend is as Jesus tells us the greatest way to show our love for our fellow man. I wonder if I would have the courage to do what Judge Roll did; to think about someone else at such a frightening moment while my own life was obviously also hanging in the balance.
The judge’s bravery on the day of the Tucson tragedy was certainly heroic. But according to Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, the judge was a hero in many other ways. In one of his recent columns for the Denver Catholic Register, the Archbishop spoke of his correspondence with the judge which began after John Roll’s wife Maureen told her husband about a homily the Archbishop gave at an annual Red Mass for attorneys in the diocese of Phoenix back in 2008.
“It’s impossible to fully know a man from correspondence alone but each of John Roll’s letters had the same four clear marks; generosity, intelligence, largeness of spirit, and a sincere love for his Catholic faith,” Chaput wrote.
The Archbishop described how Roll mentored young Christian attorneys as he believed their faith gave them a better moral foundation for their work. He attended daily Mass and kept a biography of St. Thomas More near his desk. All of this is testimony to the kind of witness John Roll was to others. This is even more obvious when you consider the fact that he reached out to those with whom he disagreed politically, including Congresswoman Giffords.
“John Roll was finally, a man of unusual personal graciousness. Despite their political differences, Judge Roll and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat, had a cordial relationship of mutual respect. Giffords sought more resources for the court system and Judge Roll was grateful,” the Archbishop explained. “Precisely because of their differences, Roll tried to greet Giffords at her local appearances whenever he could. On the morning of his death, Roll went to Mass, and at 9:55am, left his house to just “drop in” on Giffords public gathering as a courtesy, to say hello. He never came home.”
While I am certainly not shy and can hold my own in most conversations about politics and faith, there are times when I don’t reach out to those who disagree with me. It is so much easier to be around those who share the same opinions. And while I will continue to do what I can to strengthen faithful Catholics, I also know I need to be more like John Roll and step out of my comfort zone. Judge Roll is a stellar example for all of us in the way he lived his life and even in the way he died. Well done, good and faithful servant.