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Helpers on High (Part 1)

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Karlo Broussard is the author of Prepare the Way: Overcoming Obstacles to God, the Gospel, and the Church. He joins us for a three-part conversation about our friends in Heaven, the Saints, and why we should befriend our helpers on high.

The Catechism states,”It is not merely by the title of example that we cherish the memory of those in heaven; we seek, rather, that by this devotion to the exercise of fraternal charity the union of the whole Church in the Spirit may be strengthened. Exactly as Christian communion among our fellow pilgrims brings us closer to Christ, so our communion with the saints joins us to Christ, from whom as from its fountain and head issues all grace, and the life of the People of God itself.” (CCC 957.)

This communion in and through the Mystical Body of Christ allows for there to be a special relationship between all of the faithful, both on earth and above, in heaven. The love of Christ tramples death and allows for all to be in union in God. The holy intercession of Saints who have gone ahead is an important part of the divine life. These “helpers on high” are part of God’s gift to those on earth. They are examples of virtue, faith, and powerful intercessors.

Listen in to hear Cy and Karlo explain the answers to some of the common misconceptions about the Saints and their special place in the Catholic life.

Want to hear more? Listen to Part 2 and Part 3.


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Cy Kellett: Whether you know it or not, you have friends in heaven. Karlo Broussard is here to explain.

Cy Kellett: Hello, and welcome again to Catholic Answers Focus. I am Cy Kellett, your host, thank you so much for joining us. This time, we welcome back our good friend and apologist extraordinaire, Karlo Broussard. Hi, Karlo.

Karlo Broussard: Hey Cy, that’s quite the introduction, brother. Hopefully I can live up to those expectations. Extraordinaire? I mean, come on, man.

Cy Kellett: But good friend is even higher than apologist extraordinaire.

Karlo Broussard: Well you know what, Cy, you’re just such a great guy and an easy guy to get along with. I can live up to that expectation and be a good friend to you, man.

Cy Kellett: What we’re going to talk about is good friends in very high places.

Karlo Broussard: Amen to that.

Cy Kellett: Over the course of the next few foci, I think is the Italian plural of focus. Or foci. Well, I should mention Karlo’s book, his most recently published book, is Prepare the Way: Overcoming Obstacles to God, the Gospel, and the Church. Got another book coming out in the fall that will be called Answering the Protestant Challenge.

Karlo Broussard: That’s still a working title, they may tweak it a little bit. We’ll see, but that’s the working main title.

Cy Kellett: But it’s actually a very respectful book in this sense, that Protestant people, Protestant theologians, Protestant thinkers raise very serious intellectual objections to the Catholic faith. And we should respect that by answering those objections.

Karlo Broussard: That’s right, and those objections are intellectual in the sense that they’re well thought-out. But the objections, or the challenges, primarily that I meet in the book are biblical challenges. But it’s not the old biblical challenge of, “Where’s that in the Bible?”, which we have a plethora of resources, since the modern movement of apologetics started by our founder here at Catholic Answers, Karl Keating, in the late 80s, early 90s. We have a plethora of resources that address and meet that challenge.

Karlo Broussard: But ultimately, the Catholic is not required to meet that challenge because that challenge operates on the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura, scripture alone. But the Catholic could simply respond and say, “I don’t buy that premise, that assumption, so I don’t have to necessarily show that it’s in the Bible in order to believe it is infallible as a Christian.” Because as a Catholic, we’ve got the magisterium who speaks on behalf of God, who can interpret not only what is in the written word of God, but also what is in sacred tradition.

Karlo Broussard: Now, it’s great to meet that challenge of course, in evangelistic endeavors. But the challenge that a Catholic is required to meet is, “How can the Catholic church teach X when the Bible says Y?” It’s an alleged contradiction, you have your Catholic belief, and that belief, so the claim goes, contradicts this particular Bible passage.

Karlo Broussard: And that’s a challenge that a Catholic must meet because the Catholic believes that whatever we believe, whatever doctrine we assert and believe, at least cannot contradict sacred scripture precisely because we believe it is the inspired word of God. So I go through 50 Bible passages, common passages, that our Protestant friends will pose to us as showing a particular Catholic belief to contradict that passage.

Cy Kellett: Right. And so one of the things that we believe firmly in, as Catholics, is the intercession of the saints, that the saints are God’s perfect friends now, they are perfected in God’s friendship, and they are our friends. They haven’t abandoned us in friendship, and they want to pray for us and help us and do things for us, just like good friends do.

Karlo Broussard: And we believe it’s appropriate for us to request their help and their prayers and intercessions.

Cy Kellett: Well let’s start at that, we won’t get all the way to the objections yet, but let’s start with where is that in the Bible?

Karlo Broussard: That’s a good question. It’s really good because we do have some positive evidence, but our Protestant friends actually have some counters to our appeal to this particular passage. There are multiple passages that we could go through, but the key text that we have often appealed to as Catholics in our tradition is Revelation chapter 5, verse 8, where Saint John has his vision of what’s going on in heaven.

Karlo Broussard: He talks about the lamb, taking the scroll, the four living creatures, and the 24 elders falling down before the lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense which are “the prayers of the saints.” What John sees are 24 elders, which we as Catholics assert are human souls, who are offering up to the lamb the prayers of the saints in the form of incense.

Karlo Broussard: This particular text just says “there are bowls full of incense which are the saints”, but if you read the parallel passage … Not a parallel passage, but another passage … in Revelation chapter 8, where John sees angels, or an angel, I’d have to look to see if it’s plural or singular, but sees the angels doing a very similar role.

Karlo Broussard: And in that text, it says specifically that the incense which are the prayers of the saints are coming from the hands of the angel. So, if John sees the 24 elders doing a similar role, then we can infer and conclude that the prayers of the saints in the form of incense is coming from the hands of the 24 elders, or the presbyters there.

Karlo Broussard: So a Catholic looks to that and says, “Wow, John sees human souls in heaven offering up to Jesus the prayers of Christians on Earth in the form of incense.” That’s our conclusion, and so we say, “Well, there’s some biblical evidence that that’s what the saints in heaven are doing for us.” They’re interceding for us.

Karlo Broussard: They’re aware of our prayers, and they’re offering it up to the lamb, and so it’s reasonable to conclude that we can make our requests known to them in a direct way, knowing that, according to this particular piece of Revelation here, this part of Revelation, that they’re offering those requests to the lamb on our behalf.

Cy Kellett: Well then let’s just start with, not objections to the general idea of intercession of the saints, objections to this passage in the Bible. And I have some very good objections for you. The reason I have them is you gave them to me before the show.

Karlo Broussard: So some counters, right? Some counters that our Protestant friends will have to our appeal to Revelation 5:8 as support for the intercession of the saints.

Cy Kellett: Okay, so counter number one: those saints’ prayers that are going up like incense, the word saints there doesn’t refer to people on Earth, it refers to saints in heaven.

Karlo Broussard: That’s a very good counter, and they’ll appeal to Revelation chapter 7, verses 9-10 where John describes there’s a multitude of heavenly hosts from all tribes and tongues and nations, and so some Protestants will say, “Those are the saints that John is seeing, those are the saints that are referred to in Revelation 5:8.” So how do we respond?

Karlo Broussard: Well first of all, when the Bible uses the term “saints”, it’s by far predominantly used for Christians on Earth. Out of the 59 times that the term ágioi in Greek, or saints as used in the New Testament, 13 of which are in the very same book, the book of Revelation, only once is the term saints used for Christians in heaven. And that’s in Colossians chapter 1, verse 12, where Saint Paul talks about how we share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

Karlo Broussard: So we have, at least on face value, good reason to naturally read this text as the saints referring to Christians on Earth because that’s how the term is predominantly used in the New Testament.

Cy Kellett: And even that quote from Saint Paul would seem to support that, because he uses a modifier, the saints in light, to specify a particular situation with those things.

Karlo Broussard: That’s a good point, to distinguish those saints from the saints who participate in that inheritance of the saints in light, very good point.

Karlo Broussard: Secondly, I would say that the Bible actually associates the prayers of the faithful on Earth with incense. For example, in Psalm 141:2 we read, “Let my prayer be counted as incense before thee, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice.”

Karlo Broussard: So if John sees the prayers of the saints being offered to the lamb in the form of incense, and the Bible elsewhere refers to the prayers of the faithful on Earth through the imagery of incense, well then it’s reasonable to conclude that these prayers of the saints in Revelation 5:8, being offered in the form of incense, refers to the prayers of Christians on Earth.

Karlo Broussard: And then finally, one last way I think we can respond, Cy, is that this phrase, “the prayers of the saints”, this is very cool, that phrase actually is found in Tobit chapter 12, verse 15. Granted, this is one of the books in the Catholic Old Testament that we consider inspired that our Protestant friends don’t. But that’s okay, because at least we can acknowledge it as historical, and a phrase that’s common within Jewish thought, “prayers of the saints.”

Karlo Broussard: And what we read there is Raphael says, “I am one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the holy one.” Then, in verse 12, he talks about how he brought the prayers of Tobit and Sarah as a reminder to the holy one. So in Tobit 12:15, “prayers of the saints” is associated with prayers of the faithful on Earth being presented to the holy one in heaven by an angel.

Karlo Broussard: And when we come to Revelation 5:8, given that Jewish tradition, and we read about prayers of the saints being presented to the lamb in the heavenly realm, well then it’s natural to read those prayers of the saints as referring to prayers of God’s faithful people on Earth. Within the context of the New Testament, that would be the Christian people.

Karlo Broussard: And in fact, if we read Revelation 8 where it talks about an angel offering the prayers of the saints in the form of incense in the heavenly realm, it’s very likely that angel that John sees and talks about in Revelation 8 is Tobit … Excuse me, Raphael from Tobit chapter 12, verse 15.

Cy Kellett: Okay, so even if I concede that, though, and this is counter number two to the quote from the book of Revelation, even if I accept what you say about the saints, prayers doesn’t mean petitions, it means praise.

Karlo Broussard: And I would agree that prayer can mean praises. But it can also mean petitions. First of all, let’s just say for argument’s sake that the term prayer here does refer to praises of Christians on Earth, you acknowledge that it involves Christians on Earth, but you’re just simply saying it’s not petitions, it’s praises.

Karlo Broussard: Well, if that’s the case, then this just reaffirms for sure that Christians are involved here. Because in Revelation 5:13, we read how every creature in heaven and on Earth, and under the Earth, and in the sea, are all therein praising the lamb. So for sure Christians are involved here.

Karlo Broussard: But here are some reasons why we can say that the prayers, even if I acknowledge that it can involve praises, it would also involve petitions. Number one: the term prayer in the Bible is most commonly used as a petition. Any biblical concordance will show this. You look at the term prayer, the majority of the cases it’s used with regard to petitionary prayer, making requests.

Karlo Broussard: Secondly, the elders here, there are clues to suggest that the 24 elders are actually priests. And consequently, inasmuch as they are priests in the heavenly realm, they’re engaging in intercessory prayer. They’re offering petitions. That they are priests, we know the number 24 calls to mind the 24 divisions of the Levitical priests in First Chronicles chapter 24-25 in the Old Testament, the fact that they’re offering incense, that was a priestly duty. According to Exodus chapter 30, verse 1, in Numbers chapter 7, in Numbers chapter 16, in those chapters we find this.

Karlo Broussard: And the implication is that priests act on behalf of men in relation to God. That’s what the author of Hebrews tells us in Hebrews 5:1. Well, how do Christians relate to God? Saint Paul says in Philippians 4:6, “Let your requests be made known to God.”

Karlo Broussard: So if Christians relate to God by making their requests known to God, and these priests, who are supposed to act on behalf of people in relation to God, offering up prayers of the saints, well then it’s reasonable to conclude that they would be offering to the lamb the petitions of the Christians on Earth because that’s how they relate to God. And priests act on behalf of men in relation to God. So these are some reasons why we conclude that the prayers would involve petitions as well.

Karlo Broussard: And finally, I would just go back to Tobit 12:15. Remember, Raphael offered the prayers of the saints to the holy one, which involved petitions made by Tobit and Sarah. So if we read Revelation 5:8 in light of Tobit 12:15, and even if a Protestant doesn’t accept it as inspired, it’s still Jewish tradition, it’s reasonable to conclude that the prayers of the saints, the Christians on Earth, in Revelation 5:8, would also include petitions that the Christians on Earth are offering, which the 24 elders are taking on their behalf and bringing it to the lamb in heaven.

Karlo Broussard: And by the way, I want to just make one note here Cy, sorry about that, I actually have an online article at catholic.com that our listeners can check out, where I spell this out in detail and respond to these counters to our appeal to Revelation 5:8, an article entitled Defending the Prayers of the Saints, the two counters that we’ve just gone over.

Cy Kellett: Okay, Defending the Prayers of the Saints.

Karlo Broussard: Defending the Prayers of the Saints. I address those two counters in that article.

Cy Kellett: Okay, so one thing I would think that would be very comforting then to the earliest Christians who are in an uncomfortable position in the world, they’re getting thrown out of synagogues, or…

Karlo Broussard: Good point, yeah.

Cy Kellett: The fact that it’s not just your praises that go up, but that the saints in heaven are praying for you for whatever you need.

Karlo Broussard: That’s correct. It’s a source of comfort, amen.

Cy Kellett: Yeah. But what about, you call it here the “no hear” counter, it doesn’t say that they know or hear the prayers.

Karlo Broussard: The “no hear” counter.

Cy Kellett: The “no hear” counter, yeah.

Karlo Broussard: So the idea is, “Okay, well maybe these are petitions, maybe these are petitions from Christians on Earth. But the text says nothing about these 24 elders actually hearing or cognitively knowing, being cognitively aware, knowing what the prayers are.” This is a counter that you’ll find among some Protestant apologists online and whatnot.

Karlo Broussard: So a couple of ways I would respond. Number one, the presbyters are priests, we already gave clues to suggest that, to substantiate that, who are interceding for the Christians on Earth. So it’s reasonable to conclude that that would imply that they know that for which they are interceding. If they have this active role, of acting on behalf of men in relation to God, and these Christians make petitions to God, then it’s reasonable to conclude they would know what those petitions are which they’re offering to the lamb.

Karlo Broussard: Secondly, once again, the elders, the 24 elders, have just as active of a role as the angel in Revelation 8 verses 3-4, which I said earlier specifically and explicitly states that the prayers of the saints are being presented to the lamb from the hand of the angel. If the angel is doing what the 24 elders are doing, offering up the prayers of the saints in the form of incense, and the angel has this active role which would imply he’s aware of what those prayers are, then we can conclude that the 24 elders, in engaging in the same active role as the angel, then they would have knowledge of what these prayers are as well.

Cy Kellett: Yeah, it seems kind of counterintuitive, this idea that, “Oh, I’ll take your prayer to Jesus, but don’t tell me what it is.”

Karlo Broussard: And I don’t know what it is.

Cy Kellett: I suppose you could do that in, “Look, I have a serious situation, I don’t want to talk about it, could you pray for me?”

Karlo Broussard: Correct.

Cy Kellett: But that’s not the normal course of things. What about the “still not justified” counter? If we grant that the elders hear the prayers, it still doesn’t justify us praying to the saints in heaven.

Karlo Broussard: This is a good counter here. Because as a Catholic, we would appeal to Revelation 5:8 and say yeah, of course, it doesn’t explicitly say that we need to make our requests known to them, but we’re sort of making a theological conclusion here based upon what is being revealed. That human souls in heaven, the blessed, are offering our prayers to the lamb, including our petitions, then it’s reasonable that we just make it explicit and make our requests known to them.

Karlo Broussard: But the counter is that the text doesn’t say that. And this is one of the reasons why Protestants will say we’re still not justified in making our requests known to them, because the passage lacks such instruction. So how do we respond to that?

Karlo Broussard: Well, if we follow that logic, Cy, we would have to say that we shouldn’t ask the Holy Spirit to pray for us. Because Saint Paul tells us in Romans 8:26-27 that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, that he is interceding for us. But there’s no instruction to make our requests known to him. So should we conclude from that that we must not make our requests known to him, because it lacks instruction to do so, although we know he’s interceding for us? Of course not. We need to make our prayers known to the Holy Spirit, and have a relationship with him, and make our requests known to him.

Karlo Broussard: Similarly, with these 24 elders in Revelation 5:8, just because the text doesn’t say “make your requests known to these 24 elders”, we can reasonably conclude, like we did for the Holy Spirit, that we can make our requests known to these saints in heaven knowing that they are interceding for us. Does that make sense?

Cy Kellett: Yes, exactly right.

Karlo Broussard: And then secondly I would just say it’s reasonable to infer that we can request their intercession because they’re Christians, Cy. Paul requests the Christians in Rome to intercede for him in a very explicit way in Romans 15:30-31. So if Paul can make requests to other Christians to intercede for him, and of course the Bible approves of Christian A requesting Christian B to intercede for Christian A, well then the saints in heaven, aren’t they Christians? Of course they are, they’re actually more-

Cy Kellett: I hope so, or we’re all in trouble here.

Karlo Broussard: Amen, they’re more Christian than we are because they’re perfected in charity. So we can infer that we can make our requests known to these saints in heaven to intercede for us from the fact that they are Christians. Because we can make our requests known to other Christians on Earth, and if they are Christians in heaven, then it’s reasonable to conclude that we can make our requests known to them as well.

Cy Kellett: So is there anything else you want to cover? Because it feels like it’s okay to read what’s written in the book of Revelation about the intercession of the saints and say that justifies us in the Catholic practice of asking for intercession from the saints.

Karlo Broussard: There’s one more piece here that I left out, and that is a Protestant may say, “Okay, Karlo, you’re still not justified in making your requests known to these saints in heaven because there’s no evidence that the Christians did so.”

Cy Kellett: Ah, okay.

Karlo Broussard: There’s no evidence in the text, nor in the Bible, that the early Christians actually take the initiative and make their requests or petitions known to the saints in light, to the saints in heaven. So how do we respond to this?

Karlo Broussard: Well, as I point out in the second part of my article dealing with this biblical text at catholic.com, entitled Intercession of the Saints Revealed, and I deal with these other counters, as I point out in the article, the absence of Christians taking the initiative to ask the saints in heaven to pray for them is to be expected. Because the practice wasn’t emphasized in the first century. You’ve got to remember, we’re getting this Revelation towards the end of the first century.

Karlo Broussard: Now, it’s true that the first century Christians, and even the first century Jews, would have had some knowledge of the deceased interceding for God’s people on Earth, because according to Second Maccabees chapter 15, verses 12-14, we have explicit evidence. Even if you don’t accept this as inspired, Mr. Protestant Guy, my Protestant friend, even if you don’t accept it as inspired, it still is a window into the Jewish tradition as a historical document.

Karlo Broussard: And in that text that I just cited, we discover Jeremiah, who’s dead, the prophet Jeremiah, prays for the people of Israel. A deceased guy, dead guy, interceding for the people of Israel. So the first century Jews, and even the first century Christians, the Jewish Christians, the Jewish converts to Christianity, would have had an awareness that, “Well, according to that text, deceased people can intercede for us.”

Karlo Broussard: But they wouldn’t have had the practice that we have because they’re just getting this revelation at the end of the first century, and it would take some time to meditate upon that revelation and see the implications of that revelation in order to eventually develop a practice of Christians taking the initiative to make their requests known to their perfected brothers and sisters in heaven, for them to pray for them.

Cy Kellett: Karlo Broussard is our guest this time on Focus, and we’re focusing on the intercession of the saints. Catholics believe the saints can pray for us, and can help us. I feel like you’ve answered the question, “Where is that in the Bible?”, and there are probably ancillary passages we could go to, but the core thing is here in Revelation.

Karlo Broussard: Indeed it is, yeah.

Cy Kellett: But we need to go on then to the harder challenge of, “Well, you say that the saints can intercede for you, but there are some problems with that with other passages in the Bible. So how can you say that if the Bible says this?”

Karlo Broussard: That’s right.

Cy Kellett: And we’ll do that next time.

Karlo Broussard: Amen.

Cy Kellett: On Catholic Answers Focus, thanks for joining us. I am Cy Kellett, your host, and if you could maybe subscribe to us wherever you subscribe to podcasts, say at Apple iTunes. And then give us a little review there, give us a little feedback, a thumbs up, whatever you got. That would help us to spread the news about Catholic Answers Focus.


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