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Friends, on this day we remember St. Monica, who prayed persistently for the conversion of her son, St. Augustine of Hippo.

Even though petitionary prayer—asking God for something—seems simpler and more basic than contemplation, it’s more difficult to make sense of theologically. If God is omniscient, what is the point of telling him what you need? And if God cannot change, what is the point of asking him for anything? 

The prayer for the liturgy of St. Monica sheds some light on these questions. The text begins as follows: “Lord, you graciously received the tears of Monica for the conversion of her son Augustine.” Mind you, it does not say that the tears of Monica moved God to act or compelled him somehow to change the structure of his providence. But it does say that God accepted those tears in coordination with granting the grace of conversion to her son, implying that God himself was effectively crying through the tears of Monica. 

God indeed knows everything about everything, so he is aware of what we need before we ask; but like a good parent, he delights in receiving our tearful requests—even if, like a good parent, he does not always respond the way we would like him to. And God, as the unmoved mover, can never be changed by our prayer; but through whatever is good and right and true in our prayer, God is already praying through us.