Weekly Message – January 16, 2022

Dear friends in Christ,


In these first weeks of the new calendar year, I wanted to give an update on a few aspects of the temporal affairs of our parish. First of all, thank you to all of parishioners as well as visitors and friends of the parish who have been so generous in recent months. These financial contributions help us ensure that our budget is balanced and that we are paying off our significant debt, major priorities of mine.


With regard to our historic church building, many newer parishioners may not be aware of the history of these efforts – we are working on a short synopsis about this to be published in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I wanted to report that the building committee is working on a plan to improve the lighting inside the church, a project which would also involve upgrading our aging electricity infrastructure. This will not be an inexpensive endeavor. However, I believe that many parishioners would appreciate having a brighter church where they can worship each week. I will have more information about this soon.


Many people ask about the scaffolding along the Springfield Avenue entrance to the church. That is there as a safety measure, as our façade is in bad shape after decades of water damage. Thanks to the herculean efforts of the building committee and donors, the water infiltration has stopped because the dome has been repaired. Yet the current estimates are that the repairs on the façade would cost over $1 million. We have a plan and construction documents ready to bid – cost is the only thing stopping us from commencing that work and getting the scaffolding down. When I mention this to people I know, they often tell me, knowing the beauty of our church: “Father, if I had the money, I’d give it to you.” Maybe there’s someone out there who can. If not, we know that what takes place inside the church is what truly matters.


Speaking of which – Forty Hours commences next week! Please join us for evening Benediction services Sunday, Jan. 23rd (5pm), Monday, January 24th (7pm), and Tuesday, January 25th (7pm). Please sign up for an adoration slot on the posterboards in church or at https://sfds.flocknote.com/signup/75045.

May God be Blessed!


-Father Eric Banecker

An Explanation of Forty Hours: The Annual Eucharistic Devotion

Originally written by Rev. Thomas J. McManus, S.T.L., M. Div., Archdiocese of Philadelphia

“Thursday, the 26th is the Feast of Corpus Christi, a holy day of obligation. We understand that on this day the devotion of the Forty Hours will commence in Saint Philip Church, Southwark. It will begin at six o’clock in the morning and will be continued through the remaining days of the week. The faithful are advised to visit that church to join in the devotions some time during its continuance.” Those few sentences from the Catholic Herald, on 26 May 1853, mark an epoch in the history of a young American church. They signal one of the chief glories of the heroic career of Saint John Neumann, C.SS.R., fourth bishop of Philadelphia.

Neumann is somewhat slighted in the traditional annals of American Church history. The sagas of the missionaries, the wrangling of the theologians, the jovian thunders of the Irelands, the Corrigans, and the Gibbonses tend to get star billing from the academicians. A sublimely, apostolically, simple pastor like Saint John does not always get his due. But when the tumult and the shouting dies, we are left to this day with the enduring legacy of a saint in his introduction of the Forty Hours Devotion into the life of the American Church.

Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament was very close to the heart of Saint John – as it would be to any Redemptorist. Their founder, Saint Alfonso de Liguori, told his confreres: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” These saints valued and loved one treasure only – and their treasure was Jesus Christ; hence their hearts and all of their love went out to the Most Blessed Sacrament.

The sixteenth century devotion of the Forty Hours adoration of the Blessed Sacrament went deep into the European roots of Neumann’s piety. From the beginning of his tenure as Bishop of Philadelphia, he wanted to bring this treasure of Eucharistic devotion into the American Church. The Forty Hours had been celebrated intermittently and locally in Philadelphia and other dioceses. Neumann would organize the Forty Hours as a diocesan program and eventually a national act of parish spirituality. He broached the matter informally with his priests early in 1853, and was met with a surprising amount of resistance. The Nativist riots of 1844, during which several churches in Philadelphia were destroyed or damaged, were still a green wound in local Catholic memory. The priests feared that so lengthy and so public an exhibition of Catholic piety would provoke further desecration. Neumann tabled the matter for the time being.

Then, late one night, while pondering and praying over the response of the priests, he fell asleep at his desk. He awoke to find that his candle had ignited the papers on which he had been working. He extinguished the blaze, and found that amid the charred remains of his correspondence, his papers concerning the Forty Hours had remained undamaged. As he fell to his knees in prayer, he tells us that he heard a voice saying within him: “As the flames are burning here without consuming or injuring the writing, so I pour out my work in the Blessed Sacrament without prejudice to my honor. Fear no profanation, therefore. Hesitate no longer to carry out your design for my glory.”

And so it happened. In April of 1853, Saint John convened a synod of the Church of Philadelphia. He later wrote: “Last month I assembled all the priests of my diocese and gave them the spiritual exercises; then followed a synod; and I have reason to rejoice over the success of both… Besides several statutes enacted upon various points of discipline, it was also proposed to introduce into the larger churches of the diocese the Devotion of the Forty Hours so that there might be no week in the year in which the Blessed Sacrament would not be exposed for the adoration of the faithful.”

It was surely no accident that Neumann chose Saint Philip Neri Parish in Southwark as the inaugural site for his program of Forty Hours Devotions. Saint Philip Neri is often credited as the founder of the Forty Hours in sixteenth century Rome. Also, St. Philip’s was the last of the churches to be desecrated during the tragic summer of 1844. So, with something between a prayer and a dare, Neumann launched a movement of piety that still lies very close to the heart of the American Church.

Saint John composed the manual for the celebrations himself. He spent the entire forty hours in the church rapt in prayer. There were no disturbances, and the devotions spread from parish to parish. A year later he wrote to his sister: “In the nearby church of Saint Paul, the Forty Hours were held on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. The church was always crowded. Fourteen priests heard confessions, and about three thousand people received Holy Communion… and so it goes the whole year, almost without interruption.” And so it has gone for a century and a half. In the Eucharist, we live and move and have our being. In the Forty Hours Devotion, the heart of Saint John Neumann still speaks to the Church of Philadelphia.

Father Eric Banecker’s Weekly Message – January 9, 2022

Dear Friends in Christ,

Saint John Paul II introduced in the year 2000 the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary, which deal with events during the public ministry of Christ. Today, as we conclude the liturgical season of Christmas, in which we mediate upon the mysteries associated with the Joyful Mysteries, we ponder what John Paul laid down as the first Luminous Mystery: the Baptism of the Lord.

Having been to the Jordan River, I can attest to what a desolate place it is. It is literally a river running through a desert, in the space between Israel and Jordan. Here we catch a glimpse of the salvation which Christ’s birth brings to us: it is eternal refreshment. Without water, we would not be able to survive for more than a few hours. In just the same way, without Baptism, we are unable to come to God the Father through Christ his Son. John’s baptism was not the same thing as our Sacrament of Baptism, but it does prefigure it. Jesus came to baptize us with the Holy Spirt and with fire, equipping us to participate in his work of redemption. May the joy of Christmas remain in our hearts throughout the year as we go forth like Christ amid the deserts of our world.

Baptism prepares the way to meet Christ in the Eucharist. In preparation for our annual Forty Hours Eucharistic Devotion (January 23rd – January 25th), I am enclosing a short explanation about this great tradition in our bulletin today. Please sign up for an adoration slot on the posterboards in church or via Flocknote: https://sfds.flocknote.com/signup/75045.

May God be Blessed!

-Father Eric Banecker


P.S. By the time you read this, the scaffolding along the Springfield Ave. entrance to our church will probably have been repaired. This is an important safety measure. I will have more details on capital projects past, present, and future in the coming weeks.

Father Eric Banecker’s Message for the First Sunday of Advent

Dear friends in Christ,

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.” This beautiful song – especially associated with the “O Antiphons” of the final days of Advent – surely comes to mind for many of us as we begin this new Liturgical Year and, with it, the Season of Advent.

Advent literally means “coming.” And if something or someone is coming, then someone else is waiting. Waiting for what, though? For the people of the Old Covenant, it was simple: they were waiting for the promised Messiah, the one who would finally liberate Israel from the travails of war, oppression, and division. They were waiting for one like Moses who knew God face to face. They were waiting for a new David who would shepherd God’s chosen people. Of course, when the Messiah did arrive, he did so in a most unexpected way. He chose not a palace but a stable. He desired not a retinue of courtiers but poor shepherd children. His throne was not made with gold or silver but with wood and nails.

My dear friends, we still sing this song because while we acknowledge that the Christ has truly come, we know that this world is still in need of experiencing the peace and reconciliation which he won for us. We join our voices to “captive Israel” because we are captive in so many ways to false notions of success and prosperity. Many are captives to sin, to anxiety and depression, to the lie that we are not worthy of being loved by God. But he does love us, every one of us. And he sent his Son into our world precisely to ransom us and bring us out of our self-imposed exile. This Advent, we ask the Lord to teach us how to rejoice in the first coming of Christ, even as we wait in joyful hope for his coming in glory.

May God be Blessed!


-Father Eric Banecker