What makes our prayer of petition more efficacious?
“By fasting, long watches, and every type of mortification of the body, prayer is supported (Tob. 12:8).” Each should do what she can… The one who can accomplish less should not hold the others back. The one who can accomplish more should not lord it over those who cannot… strive in prayer to be victorious in overcoming this world. Pray with hope, pray with faith and love. Pray with perseverance and patience.
from St. Augustine Answers 101 Questions on Prayer by Fr. Ermatinger
When a person makes a petition to obtain some specific thing, there is always the question of how to petition so that it is more likely that the thing is given. Resolving this question is best approached from the inverse: “What is it that someone might do to obtain that which they are petitioning from you?” Appeals to sentiment and appeals to justice are two means that might be employed. These are straightforward enough that they can be grasped by the child. What parent hasn’t heard from their child asking for a gift: “A puppy would make me very happy.” “I have been good this year.”
There are two additional means that are more efficacious than these: The first is that the petitioner is prepared to receive what is petitioned for. The second is that the petitioner is prepared to take care of what is petitioned for. A parent might see that a puppy would make their child happy and that they have been very good this year, but a parent would be neglectful to give a puppy based only on those two criteria. Has the child shown that he is responsible, mature, and “old enough”, to care for a puppy? Has the child shown that he is not neglectful of things that he has previously received; that he won’t abandon the care of the puppy once it is no longer “fun” to do the sundry chores that come along with the nurturing and maintaining of a full-grown dog? The more auspicious, the more precious, and the greater harm caused through misuse of the thing requested, the more consideration will be given to preparation and fortitude in the receiver.
These are analogously the same considerations that God has when we petition Him for His good things. Grace can be likened to a seed. If we petition Him for grace, will anything become of that seed should we receive it? This is conditioned by whether or not we have prepared the soil of our souls to receive the seed. Have we tilled the soil, rooting out the weeds of vice? Have we prepared the soil with the nutrients of virtue? Do we have the plan to water the seed once planted, tend to it, and care for it even during the droughts of summer? Have we shown that we have been trustworthy in the smaller lesser seeds that we have received in the past? These are considerations that God has before He gives us the seed of grace.
It is likewise true that it has been through grace that the soil has been prepared and through grace that we are capable of tending to the new seed once given. All is through grace: The good gifts of God are necessary but they build upon nature not taking the place of nature. God teaches us how to pray, even giving us the means – yet it is still us that petitions to receive, even as it is Him in us.
How should we prepare ourselves so that God might give us His good things? As mentioned, removing vices and adding virtues to our lives is fundamental. It is necessary to detach oneself from the world and at the same time attach oneself to the spiritual life that God wants us to live. We do so through fastings, almsgivings, penances – all things that give up worldly things to make room for spiritual things. These things support our prayers and show that we are ready to receive that which we are praying for. They in turn are supported by prayer, for it is through prayer that one receives the graces to accomplish those things and by prayer that the receiving of such things is praised.
How should we have the fortitude to care for the graces that we receive? The seeds of grace should be watered by our tears; both our contrition for having preferred things of this world to the seed that is now planted and, more so, from our love and joy in receiving such grace. To grow the seed of grace requires the individual to seek to grow closer to God – for though it is the seed of grace that takes root, it is the individual that grows ever upward and closer to God. The fallow field becomes fertile and the lowly dust of Adam grows into the Mountain of the Lord where He shall commune and pitch His tents amongst His people in the heights.