A Norbertine Priest in Afghanistan and Kosovo

2b-kosovo-eye-diseaseFrom 2003 till 2011 I was a military chaplain. The Chief Chaplain of the Czech Military Chaplaincy told me, in the beginning of my service, that there is an important skill which military chaplain must have: the strength to bear loneliness. During my service there were many wonderful moments, but some were very hard. I had to go through long and intensive training, and often lived a long time out of my community. Deployments abroad meant living a couple months without my community and often without any other priest. I lost several friends and had to announce their death to their families – parents, wives, siblings. There were moments when my community, my family, my friends or parishioners from the past, couldn´t understand.

On the other hand, I experienced that God was near by many new blessings: the community of military chaplains, the friendships of soldiers, wonders around me (such as the Afghanistan’s amazing natural landscape or Kosovo’s religious monuments). I met people who were very poor, sick, suffering, who lost a lot of family members in war, but who were full of hope and strong in the Lord. Their witness encouraged me. I often felt not strong enough, not good enough, not skilled enough; but God let me experience that he can use me as his instrument even with my weakness and imperfection. I experienced a conversion of soldiers who were touched by God´s grace and found Jesus. I could help them to prepare for baptism and they became our brothers in Christ. There was a lot of blessing around me.

Maybe the words of Psalm 94:18-19 could help me to express what I want to describe:

When I said, “My foot is slipping,”
your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
When anxiety was great within me,
your consolation brought me joy.

And my Norbertine family surprised me as well.

In Kosovo and Afghanistan, we met people who suffered horribly. There was a poor family in Kosovo where three children had a serious eye disease and had lost their eyesight. There was a painful pressure in their eyes, but any medication was too expensive and unavailable in their area. The kids got some eye drops bringing relief only on Christmas. There were villages destroyed by mudslides in Afghanistan. Many people lost their homes, their lives, or were injured. I was a chaplain of a Provincial Reconstruction Team and our goal was to support people in need. But this was too much and we needed more support of our Government and other organizations. And one day, there appeared a 4 year old boy, Hammidulla, in our camp. His uncle brought him in his arms. He fell into a fire and was burnt on his tummy, groin, and thighs. No hospital in Afghanistan was able to help him and military doctors suggested moving him to the Czech Republic for a complicated surgery. And there were many other cases, many other people in need.

We wrote letters to the Czech Republic and asked some organizations for support. I sent the letter to my community and priests of our Abbey. We found organizations and people who supported us. But guess who was the most generous? Norbertine parishes. They did collections on Sunday Masses and sent us more money than we expected. We could help Hammidulla to stay 5 months in the Czech Republic and paid part of his rehabilitation and special treatment. We could buy expensive medication for the needy people of Kosovo. We bought a lot of blankets, pharmaceuticals, school equipment, and built a new kitchen and dining room for kids in an orphanage in Afghanistan. I could continue with more stories.

Many of these generous parishes were in need as well. They needed money for restoring their churches, old organ, parish houses, and pastoral projects and so on. But there was still enough to share with others.

I was proud of my Norbertine family.

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Introducing Fr. Henry Jordanek, part 2

 

fr-henryI found the Norbertine Order a place where I desired to belong. I knew I wanted to live out my faith in community. What I experienced as attractive and only joyful in the beginning, I later found to be a cross and even a burden sometimes. There can be squabbles, ambitions, tensions, envies within the community of religious – Jesus´ disciples. May I remind you of what we read in the Gospel: “A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest” (Luke 22:24). In Luke’s gospel, there is an interesting sentence spoken by Jesus right after this so-human ambitious dispute: “You are those who have stood by me in my trials” (Luke 22:28). Cardinal Martini comments on these words:

“Jesus is not under the illusion that the Twelve have reached a high degree of holiness; he does, however, know that there can be great fidelity even where there is failure, weakness and pettiness.”

I have experienced a variety of failures in my religious community; but also a lot of strength, loyalty, and beauty in this lifestyle. The beauty, which one document on religious life describes this way:

“The spirituality of community means the following:

to share the joys and sufferings of the brothers,

to know their wishes and take care of their needs,

to offer them real and deep friendship.

Further, the spirituality of community is

the ability to see in the other the positive above all

and to accept him and appreciate him as a gift of God;

this is the art of creating room for a brother by mutually carrying one another´s burdens.“

To live in religious community means to struggle with our selfishness, to be very patient with ourselves and others, to find strength and inspiration in God’s patience with all of us. It means to experience human limitations and imperfections and not to give up, but to hold on to God’s mercy all the more. It means to recognize how incomplete and unworthy we are, but to keep following Christ, because he is so worthy and God’s love is so mighty. It means to open our heart to other people – it can be very dangerous and hurtful in some cases, but it is Jesus’ way on which we walk. Perhaps the image of “gold purified in the fire” could be an appropriate image for life in community:

“Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good,
because God tested them and found them worthy of himself;
like gold in the furnace he tried them,
and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them.”
(Wisdom 3,5-6)

Our patron, St. Augustine, carrying the burning heart (heart on fire), reminds me that to be a religious requires the courage not to run away from the fire of God and the fire of community.

I am grateful for my community, and grateful for the opportunity to experience the communio of Daylesford Abbey. It is a nice place with beautiful people. I hope that new people will find in Daylesford Abbey their spiritual home and will praise the Lord with my Norbertine brothers.

community-of-daylesford-abbey

Introducing Fr. Henry Jordanek, part 1

Fr. Henry saying mass for U.S. soldiers - Afghanistan 2009

My name is Miroslav Henry Jordanek. I am from the Czech Republic, but I currently live at Daylesford Abbey. I entered the Norbertine Order when I was eighteen; today I am thirty-nine. In the beginning of my religious life, I had no idea what I would experience. Now I know it was worth going through. I became a priest. I was a chaplain and a parish priest as well. I visited many Norbertine Abbeys abroad, and as a military chaplain, I was three times deployed with Czech soldiers. I was twice in Afghanistan and experienced a war. I could continue and express many very special periods and moments… but the biggest adventure has been life in community.

I was touched by the life of Czech Norbertine communities in 1995. I met many experienced priests there, but also many young clerics. An example here would be Abbot Vit Tajovsky and other Norbertine superiors who spent years in prison during communist persecution. After being released, they still knew about the danger of persecution and could leave the communist areas by going to Western Europe. This possibility was offered to them during the General Chapter in Austria in the summer of 1968 at the end of the “Prague Spring”. But they decided to stay with their communities. They were brave enough to continue life in “the fire” of persecution, which lasted till 1989.

Norbertine Abbots Machalka and Tajovsky in artifical court