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How He Loves

First Reading: Acts 7:51—8:1A

Stephen said to the people, the elders, and the scribes:
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears,
you always oppose the Holy Spirit;
you are just like your ancestors.
Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute?
They put to death those who foretold the coming of the righteous one,
whose betrayers and murderers you have now become.
You received the law as transmitted by angels,
but you did not observe it.”

When they heard this, they were infuriated,
and they ground their teeth at him.
But Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit,
looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God
and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,
and Stephen said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened
and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
But they cried out in a loud voice,
covered their ears, and rushed upon him together.
They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.
The witnesses laid down their cloaks
at the feet of a young man named Saul.
As they were stoning Stephen, he called out,
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice,
“Lord, do not hold this sin against them”;
and when he said this, he fell asleep.

Now Saul was consenting to his execution.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 31:3CD-4, 6 AND 7B AND 8A, 17 AND 21AB

R. (6a) Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
Be my rock of refuge,
a stronghold to give me safety.
You are my rock and my fortress;
for your name’s sake you will lead and guide me.
R. Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
Into your hands I commend my spirit;
you will redeem me, O LORD, O faithful God.
My trust is in the LORD;
I will rejoice and be glad of your mercy.
R. Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your kindness.
You hide them in the shelter of your presence
from the plottings of men.
R. Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.

Gospel: John 6:30-35

The crowd said to Jesus:
“What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?
What can you do?
Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written:

He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”

So Jesus said to them,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven;
my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.
For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world.”

So they said to Jesus,
“Sir, give us this bread always.”
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life;
whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

NAB

DEV_A12

Saint Stephen, our first martyr, gives a powerful witness of handing his life over to Christ.

Within this reading, when Stephen says, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” it is a sacrifice that reminds me of another powerful story of another Stephen. As one of Blessed Is She’s contributing worship leaders, today I want to tell you the story behind the song How He Loves.

It is likely that you know the song, but very few people know its story.

The song was written by a man named John Mark McMillan. Years ago, John Mark served in a ministry alongside his friend Stephen. One morning in a prayer group, frustrated by the lack of passion in the youth, Stephen got up and prayed aloud, “Lord, if it would shake the youth of the nation, I would give my life today.” He died in a car accident that night.

John Mark woke up the next morning devastated and angry . . . and wrote How He Loves. He says that it was not written as a worship song, but is a story about a guy named Stephen who meets the Lord for the first time after his death . . . and that he knows this song is in some way a fulfillment of what Stephen had spoken.

In the original song, there is a third verse most have never heard . . .

I thought about You
The day Stephen died
And you met me between my breaking
I know that I still love you God
Despite the agony
See people they want to tell me you’re cruel
But if Stephen could sing
He’d say it’s not true
Cause you’re good

Beautiful things arise from people who offer their lives—in life and in death—to our God. The ripples borne from such offerings reach far beyond what our human minds can fathom in light of a limitless God.

Saint Stephen paved the way for the many martyrs who have surrendered their lives for the cause of Christ. I cannot imagine the impact that came from His death as people who knew Jesus personally watched Saint Stephen die for Him. A song arose from the death of Stephen—one that has impacted the lives and faith of millions. The ripples all look different—but they all hold incomprehensible power.

May we—in life and in death—offer our lives to the Lord by example of Saint Stephen . . . and may the ripples God creates through our surrender change the world.

If possible, I encourage you to listen to this song again today, especially if you have never heard the story behind it before. It takes on new meaning when we know why it was written. Pray with it in light of the story of Saint Stephen the martyr and John Mark’s friend Stephen and ask God to reveal how you can better offer your life to Him in the small ways and the big ways.

photo credit

Emily Wilson planned her whole life to become a sports reporter but turned out to be a Catholic musician and speaker at the hand of God. She lives out of her suitcase and travels across the world speaking to people of all ages. The heart of her ministry is offering encouragement to teen girls in search of their true identity, and she loves ever second of it. You can find out more about her here.

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