Catholic Phoenix


Judge John Roll: God doesn’t bring you to a point in order to abandon you.

Love justice, you that are the judges of the earth. Think of the Lord in goodness, and seek him in simplicity of heart.—Wisdom 1:1

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I had heard Judge Roll speak this summer. He and another federal judge addressed a group of Christian law students—Evangelicals and Catholics intermixed—about various topics: the demands of the legal profession, the benefits of belief in Christ, and the need for practical wisdom in living out one's faith.

Though I got the chance to hear Judge Roll, I didn't get a chance to meet him in person. I could have met him if I had been more determined—but I told myself: "It's a relatively small legal community in'll meet him sometime." That was foolish. As the sudden and violent death of this good man reminds us, our time on earth will end. We don't know when—as Judge Kozinski said, “If it can happen to him, it can happen to any of us.”—and so we must make the most of what we have.

From my notes, from my memory, and from an email I received from a friend, I can give you some sense of Judge Roll's character—how he certainly seemed to think of the Lord in goodness and sought him in simplicity of heart. The information I have is limited, but I'll make the most of it.

First, the email I received was from my friend who is the current president of the St. Thomas More Society at the ASU College of Law. He wrote:

I thought that I would let all you know that we had recently been in contact with Judge Roll about coming to our campus to address the St. Thomas More Society and the Christian Legal Society. After my initial email was sent last week, I received a reply email literally within the hour from Judge Roll who said that he was very honored by our invitation and that he was looking forward to meeting us during one of his upcoming trips to Phoenix.

If you didn't know, federal judges are busy people. Federal judges are also important people. The fact that Judge Roll agreed to spend his time addressing a group of Christian law students is a sign that he took the faith seriously. It's also a sign that he realized the importance of communicating the truths of faith and their applicability to life in all its aspects.

He was committed to Christian truth. Or, as the person responsible for securing Judge Roll as a speaker this summer put it: "He truly passionately demonstrated truth."

It also seems that Judge Roll passionately—and frequently—experienced Truth in the Holy Mass. One person I spoke with today described Judge Roll as a "daily communicant." This fits with a memory I have of Judge's Roll's address this summer, specifically when he was discussing his appointment to the federal judiciary.

According to the story as I remember it, his family learned of the appointment when his wife answered the telephone one Saturday morning. It was the president. He asked her if he could speak to her husband. She told him that he couldn't—John Roll was at church that morning. The president would need to call back after Mass.

Finally, I have in my notes one line that stuck out in Judge Roll's talk this past summer. (Judge Roll probably said more noteworthy things but I'm a very bad note-taker.) He told us:

God doesn’t bring you to a point in order to abandon you.

I'm fairly sure that the judge was talking to us about our careers, and that he was counseling us about the need to trust that God's plan would be larger than any temporary troughs in our future legal experience. In the context of the judge's talk, the line rang with the solid practical wisdom of a mature Christian.

When I listen to that line and think of the judge's death this morning, it resonates with a wisdom much deeper than I realized. In one sense, Judge Roll was "in the wrong place at the wrong time," as one sheriff said. This is true. Judge Roll wasn't the target. His death, resulting from a coincidence of his decision to speak with Giffords and the gunman's evil choice, is senseless.

But in the words of the wise jurist: God doesn’t bring you to a point in order to abandon you. Judge Roll knew the Mass. He knew the Sacrifice of the Just One. He knew, then, that although men intend evil, God can work it out for good, though His plan for it may be larger than we can comprehend—and more sorrowful than we expect.

He said as much to group of young law students, though none then grasped the full wisdom of his words.

Please pray for Judge Roll, that his soul rest forever in that Wisdom which rules all things justly. And please pray for his family, that they may be comforted by that same Wisdom, which is rich—much richer than we know—in mercy.

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  5. Susan

    I learned many things from 15+ years of working in a busy level 1 trauma center. one of the ;most significant–never leave someone you love in anger; always leave with love on your lips and in your heart. No one knows the day or the hour. Judge Rol’s evident wisdom is now lost to us here. My prayers are for his family and all the others lost or injured yesterday and their families.


  6. Aaron

    Thank you for your post on Judge Roll. As one of his current clerks, I cannot express how devastated we all are right now. It’s like living through a nightmare. I’d been with him at five o’clock the night before after a rather odd and busy week at the court. It is hard to think that he was gone a little more than 12 hours later. I spent yesterday afternoon at his house with family, colleagues, and friends. He was truly a modern-day Thomas More in his devotion to his faith, family, and the practice of law. I’d hoped to learn so much more from him, but I am so proud to have been his clerk.

    He’d recently been preparing for a presentation on the judicial emergency in Arizona. Gabrielle Giffords has always been a strong supporter of the AZ court and he wanted to talk with her about that and to thank her. He never missed an opportunity to thank those in the congressional delegation for their support of the court.

    We have lost a friend and great judge, but we are comforted by the fact that he lived his life well and was an example to all who met him of a virtuous man.


    1. J. Hanson

      Aaron, “nightmare” is the right word. His death was so strange and so unexpected. The fact that he was there to express his thanks to Giffords for her support of the court sheds light on the underlying story. We’ll keep the family, all his colleagues, his friends, and you in our prayers.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment on the post. You should be proud to be his clerk. It sounds like Judge Roll has left a legacy for Catholic lawyers to keep alive.

      And since God is the God of the living and not the dead, it seems not unreasonable to hope that Judge Roll’s prayers will help maintain that legacy even now.


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  8. Fr. John

    God doesn’t bring you anywhere. You get where you are going on your own. God is always with you however and if you heed his guiding advice you will always arrive at the best suitable place for you. So, spend some time everyday in quiet prayer, listening for the answers. Trust me they will come. Silence is the language of God.


  9. Charles Smith

    But at the end of the Morning Prayer, it asks the Lord to bless us, protect us from evil, and bring us to everlasting life.

    Is this literary device, or a gross misunderstanding on my part?


  10. Follower of Jesus Christ

    The Lord Jesus Christ said in John 14:6″I am the Way, the Truth & the Life. No one comes to God ,the Father except through Me”. “There is 1 God & 1 Mediator between God & men, the Man Christ Jesus(God in human flesh), who gave Himself a ransom for all”- 1 Timothy 2:5. Revelation 22:18-19″If anyone adds to the words of this book, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this Book; and if anyone takes away from the words of this Book, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life in heaven”. Use to refer!