CICERO, N.Y. – One day, after consoling members of a family over a dire medical prognosis of their loved one — as he had done with countless others — Fran Pompei, OFM, could not erase from his mind the angry, lost and frightened looks on their faces after he left the hospital room. That was the day Fran said he decided to “have it out with Jesus.”
It was also the day that would eventually lead to the development and publication of The Most Important Book You Will Ever Read — an intriguing book written by Fran, featuring Jesus of Nazareth as the author, and Fran as co-author.
Fasten your spiritual seatbelt because the ride could get bumpy along the way. But once the answers become clear, Fran says the book is smooth sailing ahead.
During a phone interview from his residence at the Sacred Heart Parish house in Cicero, a town in northern Onondaga County in central New York State, Fran summarized the book’s central theme: “Jesus answers your questions about life, suffering and death – and teaches you what to do about them and how to go about doing it. The best part – he journeys with you as your teacher and friend. Jesus gives you the opportunity to retrain your mind, and experience forgiveness, healing, deliverance, joy, and peace.”
The inspiration for the book, says Fran, was the hunger that he noticed people have for answers – a desire that he witnesses firsthand in his daily ministry of helping people through suffering and death, dealing with evil, coping with their fears, and navigating life’s difficulties.
“People pray for any number of reasons – when they’re having surgery, or starting a new relationship. But even daily prayer and attending Sunday Mass is often a monologue type relationship with God,” Fran said. “We sometimes think God is deaf, but he is always listening. Jesus wants a relationship with us. This book shows the reader how to find answers and how to have a dialogue with Jesus.”
Answers about Existence
After the encounter at the hospital in Syracuse, New York, just north of Cicero, Fran realized that reciting prayers and telling the family to trust in God wasn’t enough.
“People often don’t know how to trust in the Lord because no one has taught them. I told Jesus I was not doing this anymore unless I got some answers,” he said.
From that point forward, Fran began reading and experiencing scripture differently. “The answers jumped off the pages. I was learning directly from Jesus, getting the answers from him. I wanted to share what I learned — which is why the book leads with ‘I’ve learned,’” said Fran, who was a diocesan priest for nine years before becoming a Franciscan friar with Holy Name Province in 1982.
It is also why the author, says Fran, is Jesus himself. While the insights come from Fran and his experiences, everything else comes directly from Jesus.
“This is not my interpretation of what Jesus said. These are his words. These are his teachings and how he lived. Jesus is talking directly to you. It teaches you how to have a conversation with Jesus and gives you answers,” said Fran, whose gift of preaching and teaching has been well-utilized as a member of Franciscan Ministry of the Word, through which he leads retreats and missions at parishes across the country, and holds small group sessions to help laypeople discern if they have the spiritual gift of healing and deliverance.
The book answers questions about the meaning of life and existence, why God sent us here in these physical bodies, and why innocents suffer and die.
Fran is emphatic about this not being a spiritual theology book, but rather a book of Jesus’ ideology. Written like a textbook, it presents homework (putting on the mind of Christ) and meditation and prayer (spending quality time with Jesus).
The book aims to help deliver readers from fear, attack evil and temptation, discern God’s will, and show you how to live a life of unconditional love, forgiveness, and generosity, according to Fran.
Invitation from Jesus
For example, Fran talks about why it’s difficult to express unconditional forgiveness, and then Jesus invites the reader to experience it – explaining how to forgive yourself and others, even those who commit the most heinous acts.
“Why does God allow so much violence, hatred, and division in the world? Why is there so much suffering? How am I supposed to forgive a murderer or terrorist? Why am I still frightened and anxious after I pray? These are some of the questions we ask as people of faith and in trying to make sense of our struggles. Jesus provides the answers and teaches us what to do about these questions,” said Fran.
The book also addresses the history of evil, which Fran says “cannot touch our will, but infects our minds with human desires. Evil doesn’t force us to do anything, but the more we dwell on it, it progresses from temptation to obsession and, finally, addiction. These keep us apart from Jesus and from living our faith,” he said.
Fran talks about fear, which he calls the greatest power that evil has over us. “Our minds are the battlefield, where the devil drives fear. But the book shows readers how to put on the mind of Christ, and how we can train our spiritual mind to let Jesus dwell inside. That’s how we find peace,” he explained.
He further says that life is school and death is graduation. “Everything that happens to us negatively is an opportunity to trust. The small problems are pop quizzes, a crisis is a major exam,” said Fran, who in 1976, along with his brother Fr. Fred Pompei, a diocesan priest in Syracuse, founded the Franciscan Mystery Players – a group of young people that presented through dramatic performances living meditations and reenactments of Lenten and Christmas stories, which Fran wrote, produced and directed.
Fran concluded the interview with questions that he says we have all contemplated at one time or another: “Why does God allow evil to attack, tempt and overwhelm us with guilt and self-hatred? How can I do God’s will when I can’t hear Him? If Jesus came into the world to conquer sin and death, where is it?”
The answers, he said, are found in The Most Important Book You Will Ever Read. Fran is already planning to write another book, with information expanding on themes of this book.
— Stephen Mangione is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.
- “Father Pompei Helps Parishioners ‘Train’ their Brain’” – Oct. 29, 2015, The Catholic Sun
- “Francis Pompei Celebrates Profession Anniversary” – March 31, 2010, HNP Today
- “Reflection: Teenagers Hungry for Jesus” by Francis Pompei, OFM – HNP Today