The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal are a small band of Franciscan brothers trying to keep fresh and effective God’s mission to St. Francis, “Rebuild my Church.” In 1987 God called eight men, most notably Fr. Benedict Groeschel, to begin again. These men moved into the South Bronx whose streets at the time were riddled with drugs, violence, and a thriving culture of death.
Immediately they began participating in God’s work of making all things new through their prayer, fraternal life, voluntary poverty, preaching, and love of the poor. Through all this God was faithful. What began as eight has grown into a community of 125 members living and working in more than half a dozen countries. This group of poor prophets proclaim with their lives the good God who is alive and active in the world and who is not outdone in generosity.
In October, Brother Isaiah released his second full length album, with nearly twice as many songs as the first. One song that really caught our attention was “Struggler,” an ultra-hip tune driven by a Fender Rhodes organ and rhythmic vocals. The friars were kind enough to answer some of our questions about their newest release.
Dear Friars, tell us about your new song. What is the inspiration behind “Struggler”?
Not long ago Brother Isaiah went through a season of life where the chorus of his prayer was simply, “Lord, I’m struggling.” The struggle was not surface level, it was penetrating and persistent. So, was his prayer, “Lord, I’m struggling.” Then the Lord rocked his world, when in a still small voice He responded, “I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing.”
Brother Isaiah, the millennial, had not been totally purified from the modern mentality that says that when difficulty comes the best response is to run, run far and fast. Into the wilderness of his heart, the Father spoke into existence new life as He gently reminded Brother Isaiah that the struggle, albeit painful and disorienting, had value.
“Struggler” is simply Brother Isaiah’s prayer, put to melody and rhythm, to speak to the culture in a language it can understand: the Cross remains the Tree of Life — “Every truly good thing is born of a struggle.”
Your music video features a donkey walking through NYC! Where did this idea come from?
The donkey is the icon of the struggler-pilgrim. It’s a mangy, ordinary, haggard, shell of a horse and yet it’s the animal chosen by Jesus for his triumphant entry into Jerusalem. And why did Jesus choose the donkey? Because it was available.
Throughout salvation history, God has chosen the “donkeys” among us — the lowly, the ordinary, the haggard, the struggling, the available. In his characteristic playful-profundity, marked with self-deprecating humor, Brother Isaiah identifies himself with the donkey in the “Struggler” video. The video says, “It’s okay to own the little struggler-donkey within all of us. It’s okay to embrace our own manginess, haggardness, and lowliness and to do so with a little levity and humor.”
For all you Strugglers out there, all you who can identify with the mangy donkey within, this video is for you. Just keep on making the journey because Poco a Poco, vamos a llegar (Little by little, we’ll get there).
To whom did you dedicate this song?
The song is dedicated to all men and women because all men and women experience the struggle. It’s simply an invitation to be honest about the struggle with the Lord. It’s a plea to each struggler to bring your struggle to the Lord in honest prayer so that He, the Tender Remedy, can bring his light and love into the struggle.
Is there meaning to the breakdancers we see in the video?
The breakdancers are a great image for the Christian struggler. They do most of their art upside down, opposite of classic dancers. Similarly, the Christian struggle is opposite of the “classic” struggle.
It’s not a struggle for power, fame, or fortune, it’s a struggle for humility, mercy, and charity. The Christian struggler does not struggle to be rid of all difficulty or pain, but rather he struggles to participate in the Spirit’s work of making the struggle redemptive.
You can watch the video or purchase the album at Ascension Press.