My Chemical Romance and memory in Ignatian spirituality

by | Dec 20, 2019 | Music, Pop Culture, Spirituality

I have a confession to make. For the last two weeks, I’ve been listening to My Chemical Romance (MCR) on repeat. It’s been years since I’ve listened to the prototypical emo band. Although The Black Parade, their biggest album, came out when I was in high school, I was definitely never cool enough to be emo. I only started listening to MCR and other emo music in college after Pandora suggested it. This Halloween, news broke that there will be a reunion show today in Los Angeles. Tickets sold out in four minutes after the announcement. 

After hearing about the reunion show, I started relistening to some of their songs. They represent another time in my life. Revisiting these songs has helped me reflect on the role of memory in Ignatius spirituality.  

I rewatched the music video for “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)”, a song that struck a chord with me when I was just starting to discern my vocation. At the time, I wasn’t satisfied with my current plans for the future. The first lines of the music video resonated with the late teen version of me. Two of the band members are hanging out after school, Ray Toro, the guitarist, tells the singer, “Face it, you’re never going to make it” to which the singer, Gerard Way, replies “I don’t wanna make it, I just wanna….” The low budget video was funny, angsty, and joyous in a way that I hadn’t remembered. It brought back to mind all the heartbreaks and existential struggles of youth.

My dream from middle school was to study Law after graduating from college. Thankfully, however, I familiarized myself with some law school programs during my undergrad years and I realized that path was not for me. In Ignatian terms, this is called an election in the “first time,” which is when a choice is so obvious that you’re unable to doubt the decision

It was around this time that I was starting to get inklings that God might have something more adventurous in store for my life, but there was also the other voice telling me that I’d “never make it” if I didn’t stick to the plan. Now, I can look back and thank God I’m not in the same place I was in back then. Like Gerard Way, I don’t want to “make it.” My earlier ideas of success no longer had any appeal to me, but I was still trying to figure out what could take their place.

Re-listening to The Black Parade after almost a decade of distance has been a treat. There are songs that still make me want to sing out loud. “Welcome to the Black Parade” and “Famous Last Words” still rock, and “I Don´t Love You” and “Disenchanted” are still overly dramatic emo songs that were my guilty pleasures. These songs are engraved in my memory.

The first Jesuit I met once said in a faith sharing that memory is a spiritual battleground. How we remember the past colors our present relationships with others and with God. Memory plays a huge role in Ignatian Spirituality 1 and this is especially true in the First and Fourth Weeks of the Spiritual Exercises.

The purpose of the Spiritual Exercises is to free the retreatant from unhealthy attachments and help them grow in freedom and friendship with God. In the First Week, the retreatant looks back at their life and sees the areas where there are wounds, sin, guilt and pain and offers these up to Jesus for healing. The Fourth Week is the capstone of the Exercises. After entering deeply in the Gospels and walking with Jesus through his life and passion, the retreatant experiences the joy of the resurrection and once again returns to their life and history. In “The Contemplation on Divine Love”  the retreatant prays over their life, seeing it through resurrection eyes, and contemplates all as gift and grace, expressions of God’s love that invite us to share that love with the world.

My experiences with the Spiritual Exercises over the years I have been in formation have involved healing my memories, confronting past wounds, forgiving others and asking for forgiveness. I’ve prayed over parts of my life where I thought I was far from God and found God there. In the divine economy, nothing is lost or wasted, even the times when life makes you listen to way more emo music than you care to admit. 

The Spanish phenomenologist Xavier Zubriri writes that all of our actions, “irremissibly and without possibility of loss,” form part of our “figure of being”: who we are and how we enter into relationship with Reality. Even the actions that we’ve repented of stay with us and form us “under the mysterious shape of repentance.” This doesn’t imply seeing the past through rose-colored glasses, but seeing what really matters. 

As many holy people who’ve lived hard lives, from Thérèse of Lisieux to Brennan Manning and Dorothy Day, have said, in the end, “all is grace”, and there is a happy ending. Even The Black Parade, an album about death, ends on a note of hope:

I am not afraid to keep on living / I am not afraid to walk this world alone / Honey, if you stay, I’ll be forgiven / Nothing you can say can stop me going home.


Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

  1. Andy Otto has a great article about memory in the Ignatian tradition here

Jaret Ornelas, SJ   /   All posts by Jaret