By Dyann Nashton
Sun contributing writer
The Oneida community was treated recently to a parish mission at St. Patrick’s Church entitled, “Spend Three Evenings with Me and I Will Set You Free.” It was presented by Buffalo-area Franciscan friar of the Holy Name Province, Father Francis C. Pompei, OFM.
Before the program began on the first night, Father Pompei called all the parish’s teens to the front pews. He has experience working with teens as the author and director of the Franciscan Mystery Plays, traveling groups of teenagers presenting living meditations in churches across the U.S. Ten groups of 15 young people address parishes from the New York State’s North Country to San Francisco and Denver.
Father Pompei said studies show that 80 percent of students in Confirmation class do not attend Mass.
“It’s not enough to go to Church, you have to experience Christ yourself. This is not magic. It’s a relationship, one where you will experience Jesus in everyday life. It’s a dialogue, not a monologue,” he said.
He began the mission by telling the parable of the wheelbarrow where a tightrope walker stuns a crowd with his talent and then asks a member of the audience to climb into a wheelbarrow he would push across the high wire.
“You’ve got to get off the bleachers and into the wheelbarrow,” Father Pompei said, “The answers are in the wheelbarrow. Don’t focus on what could happen because then you’re dealing with fear. Fear turns to worry and terror.” He noted that fear keeps us from solutions and answers and that Jesus said, 173 times in the Bible, “Don’t be afraid.”
Father Pompei explained that the difference between faith and trust is that faith is what you believe in your mind, [it’s] a thought or feeling, and the second is a choice.
“Faith gets us into the ballpark which then gets us to the bleachers,” he said. “Trust is what we’re going to get our degree in while we’re in these bodies.”
Using today’s technology as an example, he asked the parishioners to imagine their mind as a computer hard drive where information is downloaded. “We human beings download everything into our hard drive, our head,” he said. Sometimes hard drives can be affected by a virus which requires an antivirus program. When it comes to our minds, he said, “It’s not a program we need. It’s a person – Jesus.”
It is a skill to be developed over time, Father Pompei indicated. “We’ve got to train our brains and we have our whole lives to do it. How can you do fifty pushups if you can’t do one?”
Father Pompei said Jesus should be experienced with and in us, “The Jesus you’re going to talk to, not pray to, is not in heaven. He’s right here because He said so.”
By developing a personal relationship, becoming Jesus’ friend and disciple allows us the ability to “experience the adventure of life,” Father Pompei pointed out.
To introduce the mission and become acquainted with the parish, Father Pompei preached during Mass at St. Patrick’s. Each night of the mission lasted about an hour and 10 minutes and included prayer, reading, music and the presentation.
Besides his work with the Franciscan Mystery Plays, Father Pompei has spent his ministry working with the poor and has done extensive retreat work with both adults and teenagers over the years.