Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
(Revelation 14:1-3.4b-5; Luke 21:1-4)
Much is said of the early Christian martyrs. Traditionally they have been seen as the spur that moved many pagans to become Christians. The theologian Tertullian claimed, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” However, there is little evidence to support the assertion. But the early martyrs performed two important services. They encouraged Christians who were willing to apostatize rather than be killed to change their minds. “We want to join our brothers and sisters in the arena,” they said in seeing brave Christians go to their deaths. The martyrs also became the heroes of the Church whose members named their children after them. Today’s first reading celebrates these early saints.
The number 144,000 is the square of a perfect number, twelve, with three zeroes added for good measure. It represents all the early martyrs whose actual number probably was not that high. They maintained their faith under trial and are rewarded special recognition in eternal life.
Interestingly, the number 144,000 is not much larger than the estimated figure for Christians being martyred every year in recent times. It seems incredible to someone living in the United States, but men and women professing faith in Christ are being slaughtered every day in countries near and far. Some of them are hunted down simply because they are Christians. Others are murdered because faith impels them to defend human rights. In every case martyrs still provide us a model for us to live by.