Living the readings: A perfect hand

An abundance of June solemnities is a blessing from God

As we look each month at the Sunday readings, we’ll find either four or five Sundays. They may all be plain as in Ordinary Time. Or, they may be Sundays in Lent or, more recently, of Easter. A feast day may intervene by falling on a Sunday occasionally, such as the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

But this June we have five Sundays, all of which are solemnities. A solemnity is the highest order of feast day in the Catholic calendar. They supersede Sundays. There are only 17 of them in the entire year; and every Sunday in June is one.

The thought comes to me that it is like receiving five cards in poker: an ace, a king, a queen, a jack, and a 10, all of which are spades. You can’t be beat. A friend of mine went to Las Vegas a long time back. He wasn’t much of a gambler, but he had an urge to find out what it would be like to play at a table with professional players. He told me in one of the deals he was dealt a royal flush. He said that was the most exciting feeling he ever had. The difficulty was he couldn’t reveal that feeling lest the pros looking intently at all of the other players would surmise that he had a good hand and wouldn’t bet against him. He tried his best and did make a killing at that hand. He broke even that day, enjoyed the experience, and has never gone back.

This June we can experience the thrill of coming to Mass every Sunday and being treated to one great mystery of the Church after another. Let’s explore them one by one.

The first solemnity is the feast of the Ascension. We celebrate not only Jesus rising into the clouds until out of sight. Remember, he rose from our world into heaven at the right hand of the Father. So, this great feast celebrates heaven as well as the beginning of the Church on earth as it is today.

The readings this Sunday begin with the Acts of the Apostles. The 12 receive explicit instructions to wait in Jerusalem until they receive the Holy Spirit. Then, the Lord disappeared behind a cloud as the disciples remained craning their necks hoping to get one more glimpse of the Lord. Two angels spoke to them asking them why they were looking at the sky. The implication was that they had a lot of work to do. The angels also gave the disciples, and us, a clue as to how the last day will begin. Jesus will return in the same way he departed on the day of the Ascension.

In the second reading, Paul writes to the Ephesians explaining how Christians should properly respond to the Ascension. We should employ the eyes of our heart to know the hope that belongs to his call. Hope is the key to our possessing the power of Christ’s glory. Then, Paul shifts to the other side of the Ascension. In heaven, Christ is at the Father’s right hand and far above all the principalities, authorities, and powers in this age and in the age to come. To understand what Paul is saying, think of all the rules written and unwritten that determine our future. There are laws of business, finance, social relationships, physics and many more. All of these invisible forces complicate our lives. It seems all these entities reinforce Murphy’s Law that everything goes wrong always at the worst possible time. People have to be cautious lest all our plans end in disaster. With Christ in heaven ruling over all these negative functions, we have certainty that we will form his body on earth. We become a hopeful people.

With that knowledge, we can understand the Gospel. It is Matthew’s rendition of the scene at the Ascension. He gives us Jesus’ words as he ascended. Some call these words the “Great Commission.” We need to do three things and develop a mindset. The three actions are to make disciples, baptize them, and then instruct them. Our attitude should be to live knowing the Lord is with us. That’s the reason for our hope.

The second Sunday in June is Pentecost. Among the annual solemnities it is second only to Easter. The feast has a vigil with its own special readings. Nevertheless, we will focus on the readings for the day. That Mass begins with the second chapter of Acts describing what happened when the Holy Spirit came upon those in the Upper Room. They heard the noise of a wind that filled the house. Then they were filled with the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire descended on them. After that, Luke tells us the disciples spoke and each of the listeners heard them in his or her native language. The rules of communication were unable to stop the disciples’ crude but effective attempts to transmit their message.

Paul, this time writing to the Corinthians, points out the Spirit’s role in the Church from then on. The Holy Spirit fills each and every Christian with a unique charism. All these individual gifts, however, are given for the sake of the one Body of Christ.

In the Gospel for Pentecost, the Church hearkens back to Easter night and the witness John gives us of the conferral of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. John writes that Jesus came and gave the disciples the gifts of peace and the Holy Spirit then. The Spirit, in turn, confers on the Church the ability to forgive sins. Forgiveness is an effective way of maintaining mastery over the principalities, powers and authorities of the world and accomplishing the desires Christ expressed at his ascension.

The third solemnity of the month is Trinity Sunday. Here we look into the mystery of God. When Moses first encountered God atop Mount Sinai as we see in Exodus, He revealed himself as “a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” In response Moses bowed down to the ground saying, “If I find favor with you, do come along in our company…pardon our wickedness and sins and receive us as your own.” With these words, Moses proves he understood the basic message that God is love. For it is only love that can forgive and desire to be one with the beloved.

Paul encouraged the Corinthians, in the second reading, to act according to the belief that God is love. They must mend their ways so that they are ready for divine forgiveness. They must live in peace with each other and be agreeable so that “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

Here, a knowledge of God working within the Christian community reveals the most beautiful and tremendous revelation of them all. God is three and one. His love simultaneously surrounds us, fills us from within and enables us to enter the life of God. Celebrating that fact on Trinity Sunday fills the Christian community with the grace of unity and peace as well as faith, hope, and charity.

The third chapter of John supplies the gospel for Trinity Sunday and, in it, the most famous verse in Christianity, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life.” Belief in God brings us to eternal life. That God is love means we can expect eternal life. That calls for the special treatment that deserves the designation of a solemnity.

The fourth solemnity of this June is Corpus Christi, or the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. It proclaims our most significant action as Christians. We make Christ visible in the world and we receive Christ’s Eucharistic presence into our hearts and souls. This feast was established in the 1360s. The pope commissioned Thomas Aquinas to develop its liturgy. Thomas wrote the sequence and selected the Scriptures making this day a work of art as much an act of faith.

Thomas reminds us through the medium of the eighth chapter of Deuteronomy that we should never forget what God did when the Israelites were in the desert. He gave them water to drink and manna to eat. He guided them by means of a column of cloud by day and fire by night. God has always loved us.

Thomas, then, takes our Old Testament knowledge of God and shows how God’s love carries through in the New. He quotes 1 Corinthians 10:16-17. “The cup of blessing that we bless is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?” “The bread that we break is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”

Here we see how our covenant in Christ is an organic continuation of the covenant God made with Moses. He still feeds us and gives us drink. Only now, our food and drink are spiritual. They feed us in such a way that we grow in Christ and grow in unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ. What a call for rejoicing!

The Gospel clinches the argument for joy. Where else than the Gospel of John can you find the case made so strongly than in the sixth chapter? “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

June squeezes in a fifth Sunday on the 29th. This happens to be the actual feast day of Peter and Paul. As a solemnity, therefore, it usurps the day for itself. These are important people. The actions of Peter and Paul are the history of the first 30 years of Christianity. As well, their writings and preaching manifest how the Spirit of God was working in the Church, teaching her and guiding her through a monumental time.

The passage from Acts, that is our first reading, depicts a particularly dangerous time. James, the apostle, has been martyred. Peter was put in jail. Although the passage ends with Peter realizing that he was rescued from prison by an angel, there is much more to the event. He returns to the Christian community that had been praying for him. The prayers were audacious and powerful. Christians were made strong through the hope they cherished. Despite the problems that hounded them, the Christians kept the faith and grew in the consciousness of new insights into God’s relationship with them.

Scripture chosen for the second reading parallels the first. As Peter was in danger in the first reading, Paul claims in one of his letters to Timothy that he was being poured out like a libation. But, through it all “the Lord stood by me and gave me strength. The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom.” These were strong men made even stronger by the grace of God. We give them their praise on this solemnity; but, more importantly, we ask God to raise us up as he did Peter and Paul.

Finally, the month comes to an end with the passage from Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus gives Peter his name and gifts him with the keys of the kingdom of heaven. All that, in response to Simon’s answer to Jesus that he is the Christ, the Son of the living God. The Lord is rich in kindness to us. Let us acknowledge his love for us in the solemnities of June.

Getting back to the poker table, there is something more esthetically pleasing about a straight flush than any other combination of cards. All five cards are powerful in themselves. Yet, by their common suit they also complement each other so that together the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts. If the 10 of spades, for example, was any of 32 other cards like the six of clubs, the whole hand would change from unbeatable to inferior to a pair of threes.

The same is true of the solemnities of June. These events, people and beliefs form a mosaic that draws our lives into the mystery of God’s infinite love.


Sunday, June 1: Acts 1:12-14; Psalm 27:1, 4, 7-8; 1 Peter 4:13-16; John 17:1-11
Monday, June 2: Acts 19:1-8; Psalm 68:2-7; John 16:29-33
Tuesday, June 3: Acts 20:17-27; Psalm 68:10-11, 20-21, John 17:1-11
Wednesday, June 4: Acts 20:28-38; Psalm 68:29-30, 33-36; John 17:11-19
Thursday, June 5: Acts 22:30 and 23:6-11; Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-11; John 17:20-26
Friday, June 6: Acts 25:13-21; Psalm 103:1-2, 11-12, 19-20; John 21:15-19
Saturday, June 7: Acts 28:16-20, 30-31; Psalm 11:4-5, 7; John 21:20-25; vigil for Pentecost, Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 104:1-2, 24, 35, 27-30; Romans 8:22-27; John 7:37-39
Sunday, June 8: Pentecost, Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-31, 34; 1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23
Monday, June 9: 1 Kings 17:1-6; Psalm 121:1-8; Matthew 5:1-12
Tuesday, June 10: 1 Kings 17:7-16; Psalm 4:2-5, 7-8; Matthew 5:13-16
Wednesday, June 11: Acts 11:21-26 and 13:1-3; Psalm 98:1-6; Matthew 5:17-19
Thursday, June 12: 1 Kings 18:41-46; Psalm 65:10-13; Matthew 5:20-26
Friday, June 13: 1 Kings 19:9, 11-16; Psalm 27:7-9, 13-14; Matthew 5:27-32
Saturday, June 14: 1 Kings 19:19-21; Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-10; Matthew 5:33-37
Sunday, June 15: Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Exodus 34:4-6, 8-9; Daniel 3:52-55; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; John 3:16-18
Monday, June 16: 1 Kings 21:1-16; Psalm 5:2-7; Matthew 5:38-42
Tuesday, June 17: 1 Kings 21:17-29; Psalm 51:3-6, 11, 16; Matthew 5:43-48
Wednesday, June 18: 2 Kings 2:1, 6-14; Psalm 31:20-21, 24; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Thursday, June 19: Sirach 48:1-14; Psalm 97:1-7; Matthew 6:7-15
Friday, June 20: 2 Kings 11:1-4, 9-18, 20; Psalm 132:11-14, 17-18; Matthew 6:19-23
Saturday, June 21: Memorial, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, religious, 2 Chronicles 24:17-25; Psalm 89:4-5, 29-34; Matthew 6:24-34
Sunday, June 22: Solemnity, the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi), Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16; Psalm 147:12-15, 19-20; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; John 6:51-58
Monday, June 23: 2 Kings 17:5-8, 13-15, 18; Psalm 60:3-5, 12-13, Matthew 7:1-5
Tuesday, June 24: Solemnity, the Nativity of John the Baptist, Isaiah 49:1-6; Psalm 139:1-3, 13-15; Acts 13:22-26; Luke 1:57-66, 80
Wednesday, June 25: 2 Kings 22:8-13 and 23:1-3; Psalm 119:33-37, 40; Matthew 7:15-20
Thursday, June 26: 2 Kings 24:8-17; Psalm 79:1-5, 8-9; Matthew 7:21-29
Friday, June 27: Solemnity, the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Deuteronomy 7:6-11; Psalm 103:1-4, 6-8, 10; 1 John 4:7-16; Matthew 11:25-30
Saturday, June 28: Memorial, the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Lamentations 2:2, 10-14, 18-19; Psalm 74:1-7, 20-21; Luke 2:41-51
Sunday, June 29: Solemnity, Sts. Peter and Paul, apostles, Acts 12:1-11; Psalm 34:2-9; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18; Matthew 16:13-19
Monday, June 30: Amos 2:6-10, 13-16; Psalm 50:16-23; Matthew 8:18-22

Father Joseph Brando is pastor of St. Mary Parish in Gatlinburg.