Br. Humbert Kilanowski, O.P. is a Dominican friar, studying for the priesthood at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. He hails from Columbus, Ohio, where he earned a doctorate in mathematics at The Ohio State University before entering religious life in 2010, and he made his solemn, lifetime profession of religious vows in the Order of Preachers in August 2014. He and several of his brothers write on various theological and cultural topics for the Dominicana blog, updated every weekday. I’m honored to have him participate in the How I Pray series.
Who are you?
I am a creature of God, weak and fallen, but made in His image, endowed with reason and free will; adopted as a son and restored to friendship with Him by His grace; and called in a particular way to be drawn close to Him in religious life and to be an instrument of that same grace to others.
What is your vocation?
To study, contemplate, preach, and teach the Truth for the salvation of souls.
What is your prayer routine for an average day?
I start the day with a half-hour of mental prayer before morning Mass in our main chapel. Our community comes together several times later in the day to pray the full Liturgy of the Hours, as well as the Rosary. I also make a Holy Hour in Eucharistic Adoration twice a week (once with all the student brothers) and periodically spend time in personal prayer, particularly at the end of the day.
How well do you achieve it, and how do you handle those moments when you don’t?
If I can’t make it to the chapel in the morning for a half-hour meditation before Mass, I’ll make it up later in the day. If I have trouble concentrating during mental prayer (often I start thinking about what I’ve got to do that day), I make that something to pray about, or turn to the Scriptures or another spiritual book for meditative material. And if I’m feeling dry during these times of prayer, I simply keep at it, staying faithful to at least the minimum of the schedule, to maintain a habit of conversation with God, so that I can continue to cultivate it.
Do you have a devotion that is particularly important to you or effective?
First, I’ve found Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament to be both important and effective. As Our Lord stands exposed on the altar, He invites us to bare our souls in prayer and come into communion with Him, and re-presents the very act whereby He saves us.
Next, our particular Dominican form of Compline (the last prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours each day) is particularly striking, as we begin with a penitential rite, asking the community’s pardon for our sins of that day, and conclude by singing the prayers Salve Regina to Mary and the O Lumen to St. Dominic.
Speaking of which, I find sung prayer particularly effective, whether it’s simply chanting the Office in community, or singing in our choir (the Schola Cantorum) at major liturgies, because singing to God stirs the mind and heart to devotion of Him, for both the singer and the hearer (as St. Thomas Aquinas is quick to point out).
Do you have a place, habit, or way of praying?
Do you use any tools or sacramentals?
Books: the standard breviary for the Liturgy of the Hours; tools: a 15-decade Rosary once owned by a Dominican nun in Connecticut that somehow found its way to me before I entered the Order; sacramentals: a medal of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity.
What is your relationship with the Rosary?
Though a cradle Catholic, I never really prayed the Rosary until I was in my 20’s, but after times of struggling to stay attentive, I’ve found it to be the most important prayer outside the liturgy, and I’ve prayed it every day since a couple of years before I joined the Dominicans. Our Order has always been strong in praying and promoting the Rosary, as it encompasses both our mission to preach Jesus Christ and our affirmation of the goodness of creation.
The Rosary engages the whole person: the mind in contemplating the God who took on our human nature to free us from sin and death, the will in expressing devotion to our Savior and His Mother, the memory in recalling the great events of salvation history, the imagination in picturing these scenes, the voice in speaking the prayers, and the hands in keeping track of our progress with the beads. Moreover, it invokes the Blessed Virgin Mary by the same words through which she became the Mother of God, and asks her intercession to bring us to eternal life with her Son. This I find effective, whether my attention is on the mysteries themselves, on the words of the prayers, or on the people or situation for which I’m praying.
Is there one particular book or spiritual work that has been particularly important to your devotional life?
The book that stands out is the Bible’s Book of Psalms. Through this collection of inspired poetry, the Holy Spirit teaches us the words to pray, and the People of God have used these words in divine worship for some three thousand years. In praying the Psalms, I find myself united to the Chosen People as they gave thanks and praise to God and anxiously awaited their Savior, and to the Church throughout the ages and around the world who found these words fulfilled in Christ. Moreover, as St. Athanasius once wrote, through the Psalms, you learn about yourself, as these prayers express a wide spectrum of human emotions, in which I often find myself (or someone for whom I’m praying). I started praying the Psalms through the Liturgy of the Hours while in graduate school, and this greatly helped me make the transition into the rhythm of religious life.
What is your current spiritual or devotional reading?
A biography of St. Thomas Aquinas by 20th-century French Dominican Antonin Sertillanges, and Spiritual Friendship by 12th-century Cistercian Aelred of Rievaulx.
Are there saints or other figures who inspire your prayer life or act as patrons?
To mention a few: St. Dominic, our father and founder, who prayed ceaselessly for the people he sought to bring to (or back to) the Faith; St. Thomas Aquinas, our teacher, who inspired not only with his synthesis of sacred truth but also with his timeless poetry about the Eucharist; St. Catherine of Siena, our “spiritual mother,” who ardently loved the Church and all she met with the heart of Christ; and on a more personal (and ethnic) level, St. John Paul II, through both his writing and his personal example of prayer.
What is one prayer you find particularly powerful or effective?
The Memorare (“Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary…”), attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux, is often my “go-to” prayer whenever a request comes my way.
Have you had any unusual or even miraculous experiences in your prayer life?
I’ve had occasional moments of insight and acute awareness of the presence of God, so these points of encounter with the supernatural could be considered unusual from a scientific perspective. And God convincing me, through much time at prayer, that I had a vocation was a minor miracle in itself!
I’d like to see ________________ answer these questions.
Friend of our community and fellow math geek, Leah Libresco.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you so much for inviting me to take part in this project!