Monsignor Charles Pope posted a short article on the sufferings of St. Paul. The Apostle to the Gentiles would not go to Christ. That is why Christ had to go to him. Our Lord met him on the road. Saul was going to Syria with “chains and letters from the Sanhedrin” to imprison the followers of the Nazarene in Damascus. Christ appeared to Saul of Tarsus and changed him. The man that was carrying chains and letters to persecute Christians ended his life in chains, writing letters for the edification of the Christian community. The man traveling the winding roads to Syria blinded by fury, had to go to “the street called Straight” to recover his sight. That was perhaps the greatest u-turn in Christian history.
Monsignor Pope also mentions:
All but one of the first apostles suffered martyrdom as well as countless other sufferings before their lives were brutally ended.
The one that did not suffer martyrdom was John, the beloved disciple. Not that the persecutors failed to try. Tradition has reached us that John was thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil but emerged not only unscathed but refreshed. John is sort of a polar opposite of Paul in many ways. One was “a chosen vessel” and the other “the beloved disciple.” One was bound to Christ by noble loyalty and duty, the other by the more perfect way of love.
The Early Fathers believed John received the gift to reach the heights of mystical revelation during the Last Supper. There he reclined his head on Jesus’ chest to inquire who the traitor was. Jesus revealed even more than that to John. In that brief moment, John’s ear was close enough to the Most Sacred Heart to receive something that none of the other Evangelists ever got: the very core of the message that Logos had for the Church, an advance on the unfathomable realities of Heaven.
Notice the word core also means heart in many Romance languages. In some of those languages the word has evolved to corazón (Spanish, Portuguese) a word that evokes, perhaps unintentionally, the idea of a co-reason, the intuition that runs parallel to and enlightens human wit.
In spite of his many trials and tribulations, St. Paul gave the Church a treasure of solid reasoning. He was the first to live in the intersection of three worlds: Greek thought, Roman order, and Jewish revelation. Reason was Paul’s element. John’s Gospel, his letters, and his Apocalypse cover a different territory. While Paul, the reluctant convert, drags his chains all the way to that second encounter with Christ in martyrdom; John flies like an eagle way above the landscape, eyes fixed in a constant encounter with the Lord, ears listening to the beating of the heart of Logos. Paul is the road, John is the sky.
Perhaps that is why John is also the only disciple who was next to Jesus and Mary in Calvary. From there I gather that one can obtain great benefits from climbing to Calvary in prayer (the 4th and 5th decades of the Rosary’s Sorrowful Mysteries.) There is a great balsam in serenely contemplating the sorrows of the Cross. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, had to be violently shaken into understanding that mystery. He ascended Calvary as a persecutor – like the Roman centurion who pierced the side of Our Lord – he had to be drenched in the blood of Christ’s body to be converted, to fully understand.
The purity of John’s eyes allowed him to see the empty tomb and believe but Saul had to be blinded with scales (a sign of impurity according to the Law) that fell off once he had properly humbled himself before Christ.
Those who willingly climb Calvary through imagination, imitation, meditation, and prayer acquire much merit. St. John, a pure youth, could not separate himself from Christ. He remained with Mary and Jesus out of his unpolluted heart and love. Paul had to learn to love by unlearning the letter of the Law in such a way that he could understand the Spirit that had written it.
One can gain a lot of wisdom by contrasting the lives of our great saints.