St. John Paul II and Hip-Hop

 Today is the Feast day of St. John Paul the Great. It’s the day that he was elected in 1978. In his honor, I offer the following blog post that I wrote last year.

Back when I was in high school, the student radio station entertained us every day during lunch. The music spanned several genres and provided a whole lot more variety than the food could ever hope to. It was in those days that I began to enjoy listening to hip-hop. Eventually, A Tribe Called Quest, Gang Starr, and the Wu-Tang Clan filled a void that a lack of friends left in me. My appreciation for hip-hop grew and evolved in the years that followed the more I was exposed to it. I have to say that I learned a lot about the culture and art form thanks to the Internet. Speaking of which, I recently saw a video of a 16-year-old emcee with a very impressive vocabulary and amazing rhyming talent. He certainly stands out in stark contrast with the unintelligible garbage out there today that passes for music.

I am aware of just how much of an impact that hip-hop had on me. It’s really given me an understanding of the power of words and of language. To me, as a visual artist, writing––if it’s good––can be described as painting with words. Writers like CS Lewis, GK Chesterton, and JRR Tolkien come to mind. In large part, my growing aptitude for writing, something that I have to keep working on, has been greatly influenced by hip-hop. Like all forms of communication, hip-hop has the ability to convey truth or error. Admittedly, many errors have been transmitted through hip-hop, sadly by some of the most gifted of lyricists. All of this has been on my mind lately as I’ve been reading the book Witness to Hope by George Weigel, the biography of Pope St. John Paul II.

In the 1st few chapters that I’ve read of Witness to Hope, I’ve learned some things about the late great Pope that I hadn’t really known before. I knew that when he was growing up in Poland, literature, and drama were taught and relished as cultural treasures. Karol Wojtyła saw the theater as a means of cultural resistance as the Nazis sought to destroy Polish culture and assimilate the country. What I didn’t know was that he actually studied language and linguistics and aspired to be a philologist. I guess that makes a lot of sense because the man seemed to be fluent in several languages and wrote a lot of books and encyclicals. One of his mentors was a man who saw the spoken word as a transmitter of truth, who is ultimately the Word of God. The actor’s role was to almost make himself invisible and allow the power of the truth that he was at the service of, take the front and center stage.

 The Pope’s words were powerful. I was always edified by the things he said and wrote, and because of him, I have been following the words of Pope Benedict –– who wrote prodigiously, and the words of Pope Francis. I think it must have been very difficult for Pope John Paul II, towards the end of his life when he was unable to speak. But just seeing him spoke volumes to me. I understood redemptive suffering because of his witness, a witness that made his apostolic letter on redemptive suffering all the more credible.

 I hope that people continue to read the thought of this great man. To bring this post to a close, my mind goes to his letter to artists. St. John Paul II encouraged artists to make beautiful art through which to win souls. Art reaches souls in a way that words cannot…so anyway, this is where I should bust out some dope rhymes in honor of today’s Saint, but seeing as I can’t, I’ll post something by someone more qualified…

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