Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary 2021

Published: May 31, 2021

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily during a Mass to celebrate the 35th priestly anniversary of Father Bill Elser at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Hot Springs Village on Monday, May 31, 2021.

Bishop Taylor

Many things were running through my mind as I sat down to compose this homily for Father Bill's 35th anniversary. One of the things that most jumps into my mind is the excellent care Father Bill gives to the sick and shut-ins, visiting them often, hence the appropriateness of today’s celebration on the feast of the visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

And then when I looked at the readings for this Mass, I marveled at how appropriate they are for a Mass in which we honor Father Bill's priesthood, in particular the Magnificat, Mary’s beautiful words which Father Bill — and all priests pray every evening as part of Evening Prayer.

Father Bill, we are grateful to you for all the care you give us. You proclaim the Gospel courageously; you are a man of prayer and you die to yourself in order to serve us.

Mary has a special love for priests — after all, she is our mother and we are each an “alter Christus," another Christ, another one of her sons, and we have no better guide for our ongoing formation as priests than she who had such an important role in forming Jesus as he grew up in their home in Nazareth.

In the Magnificat Mary proclaims powerfully not only that God has a special love for the poor, but also that they must be our special concern as well. And in this, Father Bill’s admiration for his uncle, Father Biltz comes immediately to mind. All Christians, and especially we who are priests, are called to infiltrate the world, to change it from within. In the world but not of the world. Father Biltz was exemplary in this and for that reason, one of the main meeting rooms at the diocese is the Father Biltz room. And how is a priest to do this?

First, we priests must be consecrated to the truth. If we preach the full truth of the Gospel, not just the easy parts — we can expect a lot of resistance — and Father Bill has experienced this over the course of 35 years of priesthood. What makes people so angry is that to embrace the truth we have to change, leave behind what is comfortable but false.

But as we see in the Magnificat, it is only by changing hearts that we change the world, “lift up the lowly” — that requires us to grapple with evil; “scatter the proud in their conceit” — that isn't always going to be pretty. But don’t worry, if people complain because a priest preaches truths that people need to hear, I'll back him up. And Father Bill knows that to be the case. And by the way, I am so grateful for the way Father Bill backs me up when I must preach a truth that is not going to be well received in some quarters.

Second, priests must be men of prayer. Our vocation as priests may be in the world, but we need to withdraw from the world too, for at least one hour of private prayer every single day, including on vacation. How else are we going to learn from the heart of Christ those truths that the Lord is trying to reveal to us and to our people?

And how to communicate that truth in an effective way? Otherwise, we just end up preaching our own ideas or just what we think will please the hearers, but not the challenging Gospel of Jesus Christ. Besides, where other than in prayer will we find the patience that we need to be Christ for our most high-maintenance parishioners? Of course, I am sure there are none of them here in Hot Springs Village.

And third, a priest must die to himself. We see this in the Blessed Mother on this feast of the visitation. In agreeing to bear our Savior, Mary put her whole life on the line, and then upon arriving at the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary proclaimed the greatness of God who had bestowed this favor on her, whom she describes as God’s “lowly servant.”

And that is Father Bill’s calling as well, which requires him to die to himself in order to live for others … in order for him to be God’s “lowly servant” too. And me too!

We all know that Father Bill is a passionate person, passionate about his priesthood, passionate in his love for you, the flock entrusted to his care. Father Bill, we are grateful to you for all the care you give us. You proclaim the Gospel courageously; you are a man of prayer and you die to yourself in order to serve us. May God bless you for your goodness and grant you many more years of faithful, fruitful priestly ministry.