Coldplay is way cooler than you thought. Listen to this song if you’re not familiar with it, and then read my article and admit my awesomeness. (Just kidding about the last part.)
This past summer I was blessed enough to be a teacher for Totus Tuus, a summer catechetical program in the Diocese of Lincoln. Totus Tuus is a Latin phrase that means “Totally Yours,” and JPII adopted it as the motto for his pontificate. During Totus Tuus a team of 4 college students and seminarians travel around a diocese for the whole summer, teaching on a theme for one week at a parish and then moving on to another parish the next week. We spent the majority of each week trying to show the kids how cool we were… I mean the beauty and energy we find in the Catholic Church using any method we could. In theory, in order to inspire the same love and devotion in them that we have for our wonderful, huge, beautiful Church.
I had recently taught myself how to play the guitar, so I thought it’d be a great idea to learn some popular songs to sing with the kids and tote my guitar around for the summer. I needed to build my street cred, in other words. Coldplay has been one of my favorite bands for like, ever, and their most recent single was “Viva La Vida” at the time. Looking it up online, the chords were easy enough to learn, so I printed off the lyrics and shoved it in my music binder to pull out in a dull moment. Secretly I think I hoped it would never happen, because let’s be honest, I get major stage fright even in front of a group of 10 kindergarteners.
During my first week of teaching, by Friday afternoon I found myself in my worst nightmare. My class of 5th and 6th graders were getting a little restless, so I decided to pull out my guitar and entertain them to stop them from climbing on the stacks of chairs in the back of the classroom or hiding in the trashcans (don’t tell my boss, please, and if you’re reading this, ignore me). I flipped my binder open to “Viva La Vida” and began to play the chord progression, which elicited excited shouts of “Hey I know this song!” So we sang along to the song, dancing around and having lots of fun. I think I maybe stepped on a couple kids’ hands because we were having so much fun…but they were fine, I promise. As I was playing and singing the lyrics I had printed off, I began to really think about what the song was saying, and I had a mini-revelation that Chris Martin’s lyrics were totally and completely Catholic! Don’t tell him, but I can read his mind.
In “Viva La Vida,” Martin sings through the character of a once-ruling king who has been ousted from his throne. This king speaks of the power and riches he once had that have been taken from him. He has been reduced to a street-sweeper, walking past all the magnificent buildings that he once ruled with an iron hand. He sings, “One minute I held the key, next the walls were closed on me.” He used to “listen as the crowds would sing ‘Now the old king is dead! Long live the king!’” and now he is powerless and alone. This king reflects on the life he has led as he nears death in disappointment. He
says his “castles [stood] on pillars of salt and pillars of sand,” regretting the life he has led and seeing the transitory nature of the life he had chosen for himself. As he nears death, he hears Heaven calling to him.
I hear Jerusalem bells a-ringing,
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror, my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
For some reason I can’t explain
I know Saint Peter won’t call my name
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world
The king hears the bells of Heaven calling to him as he gets closer and closer to death; choirs are singing and beckoning him home. The lines after those in the song are what really got to me: right here in Martin’s music is God’s call to each one of us. “Be my mirror, my sword and shield, my missionaries in a foreign field,” echoing God’s call for all of eternity to reflect His beauty, to fight the good fight, and to spread His love and His word to all we meet. The pivotal moment in the song comes when the king says, “For some reason I can’t explain, I know St. Peter won’t call my name.” He realizes the futility of all he has pursued his entire life. He loved money, and power, and glory, and now at the end of his life he sees how flawed and false they all were and how his pursuit of them has cost him the most important treasure of all, Heaven.
Needless to say, when I had this revelation I was blown away. So much of the popular music on the radio glorifies any number of immoral and horrifying things, and this song was God speaking directly to the world through the mouth of Chris Martin. As we finished singing the song, my mind was reeling and I began spit-balling these ideas to the kids, talking faster and faster as I discovered more and more the truth that lay in the song. I think the kids at least pretended to listen to what I was saying, but unfortunately I couldn’t express to them how amazing this really was. (To note: I repeated this routine every week for the rest of the summer, and I couldn’t ever seem to get any of the kids as excited as I was about my idea—which is either a testament against my teaching skills or a testament to how scary I can be when I get excited about Catholic things!)
In the chapel later that day, I sat in wonder at God’s amazing and often unseen power. He had used a world-famous musician (a Brit, no less) to speak to me through the lyrics of a favorite song, and was using those same lyrics to subtly influence literally millions of listeners around the world. How often does He do that without our noticing? After this revelation, I’ve tried to approach each song I hear with an open mind and heart to see what God is telling me right then through the lyrics He inspired. For similar ideas, listen to “Mean” by Taylor Swift as a song about the attacks of the Devil, “Show Me What I’m Looking For” by Carolina Liar as a plea to God to show us the desires of our own hearts, or “Crazy Girl” by the Eli Young Band as a proclamation of God’s love for us.
Don’t tell Chris Martin that I’ve got his secret figured out though. I’m planning an elaborate blackmail job that will mostly involve him converting to Catholicism. That’s moral, right?