Monks don’t have contact with people – what do you pray about?

What do monks pray about? A cloistered monk does not have the challenges, I assume, of someone in the outside world. Nor does a cloistered monk have contact with people for whom he might pray. So what is the content of a monk’s prayers? Does he pray for the whole world? For himself? For his brother monks? I would very much like to know.


A beloved and popular parish priest who became a monk once said to me: “As a priest, I embraced my parishoners. Living a life of prayer in the cloister, I can embrace the whole world!” And he suffered with the world. He suffered a lot. His prayer for the world came out of the suffering he endured learning the truth about himself and, subsequently, the mercy of God.

It is good to pray for all who suffer in the world. Your prayer is more powerful if it is informed by a deep understanding of the nature and source of that suffering. The source of the worst suffering is estrangement from God. We become estranged from God by becoming estranged from ourselves at whose center is the living God.

A monk does not have fewer challenges, he has fewer distractions, which makes him much more present to the daunting truth about himself, and this can be enormously challenging. Self-knowledge can break a man completely to pieces and put him back together again as a new man. It is out of this crucible of life-long conversion and self-abnegation that a monk prays for the world, for his brothers, and for himself. I am convinced most of the compulsive talking and busyness in the world is driven by the fear of solitude where, people instinctively know, they’re going to have a radical encounter with themselves. Solitude is like a cave that people are afraid to venture into. Monks go into the cave. They do that for you and for the world. Do we know what’s going on out there? We know the important things. Our contact with the world comes in various forms: the newspaper, continuous new prayer requests posted on our bulletin board, often without names; heartrending cries like distressed voices coming from a dark wood. Neighbors share with us their family joys and tragedies. All this we take back into the silence and solitude of the cloister and into our private and communal prayer.