THE SACRIFICE OF LIFE
Ivan Merz’s last conversation with his spiritual director,
Fr. Josip Vrbanek
Although not strictly part of the Diary, I believe we ought to publish the material relating to the last days of Ivan Merz’s life. We have documents from this period which illustrate the pinnacle of his sanctity, and this is the offering of his life to God for the good of Croatian youth. We already saw from several of his Diary entries from the beginning of 1928 how he takes pain and suffering with an elevated spirit. He confirmed this in his death, too. Therefore, for the purpose of a complete insight into his spirituality, we publish the description of his last days, as told by his spiritual director and confessor, Fr. Josip Vrbanek in his biography of Ivan Merz. This is an abridged version of Vrbanek’s text; the interested reader can find many other inspiring and edifying details in Fr. Josip Vrbanek’s original biography of Ivan Merz (in Croatian).1
There is a flaming red thread weaving its way throughout Merz’s life and that is pain. As a matter of fact, it is, along with love, the predominant feeling of his life. Love as a yearning for happiness, for God; pain as the lack of this happiness and at the same time its force. And as he wanted this happiness not only for himself, but for one whole nation, it was necessary to go in front of this nation, on the way of the cross to happiness – to God. (…)
The question of pain is the chief motif and the touchstone of philosophizing. Likewise, it was the main question of life for Merz: “Why do I suffer; therefore, how should I suffer?” He realized quickly how suffering is connected with the essence of the human being. (…)
A Jesuit, Fr. Josip Vrbanek, Ivan’s spiritual director
and confessor in the Basilica of the Heart of Jesus in Zagreb.
The cause of greatest pain for man is freedom, which causes the greatest lack – moral evil – sin, with all its terrible consequences for property, health and honor, and in the supernatural realm the loss of grace and eternal happiness. But it also has its beautiful side, because it is the most beautiful ornament of a reasonable man who through it becomes a co-creator of God’s greatest wealth in the world: virtue and merit. And, as they are the most precious, they must be paid by the greatest pain – sacrifice. If you are, therefore, a man of reason, an earthly traveler, you must reconcile yourself with being a sufferer.
Ivan understood this quickly. “If we want to achieve something, we must drive ourselves really hard… Life must be a sacrifice, without looking much at its beautiful sides. Life is an immensely difficult struggle, to the point of burning ourselves out… For the sake of this struggle human life has a higher meaning…” (Diary, 19 March 1915). In this spirit, he withstood all renunciations connected with army life, made even more difficult by the war efforts, anxieties and horrors, until finally, having lost 12 kilos, – he returned home ill.
Along with this philosophical understanding of pain, Merz quickly developed a Christian understanding, according to which the Creator is glorified through the battle of grace against sinful nature, and the Savior through a voluntary carrying of his Cross. “Sometimes I feel a certain satisfaction, I might even say happiness for suffering unjustly; in that way, I am getting closer to Christ” (Diary, 6 April 1916). “Yes, pain is the content of life, it rules over all. Where pain is absent, we can be sure that real life is absent, too.” (17 December 1916). In the same vein on the feast of St. Luke – 18 October 1921 he writes from Paris consoling and encouraging his friend Dragan Marošević, and at the same time reveals his proficiency in the matters of pain: “I know it is hard to suffer, but some people have a calling to suffer. We are one body of Christ and he assigns different roles in it. Some must suffer, to mitigate the wrath of God which should descend on our society. Huysmans would call these chosen ones the mystical lightning rods. (…) As there is no accident, I hold that the plan of Providence lies in realizing this secret from his life: to suffer for others.”
Permeated by these thoughts, Ivan almost sought an all-embracing suffering. He sacrificed his artistic talent, deciding not to be a writer; he sacrificed all the pleasures connected with it: playing piano, going to the theatre, even concerts… He ennobled it all in such a way that he relished only the Holy Service, where he was continuously immersed in eternal art. He inflicted pain upon himself by fasting, lying on a hard bunk and other types of penitence; even more by professional work; but most of all with glad acceptance of trials which God allowed: misunderstandings, humiliations, privations, and especially illness and an early death. The spirit with which Ivan permeated this suffering was Jesus’s spirit which values suffering, so that he not only suffered in a dedicated way, but loved suffering as a great component of every success; actually, he loved and sought it, because it made him more in the likeness of Jesus.
Ivan’s desire to suffer was in God’s plan; it was in this plan, through the early and painful sacrifice of life, that he became as much similar to Jesus as is humanly possible. (…)
Along with his discharging of the duties of a teacher, in the early spring of 1928 his health deteriorated again, this time with a suppurating inflammation of the facial cavities. The physicians advised surgery as soon as possible, and he was willing to oblige.
In severe spiritual dryness, he came to the confessor.
The dear God is leaving me as well!
He is not leaving you, his confessor would say. He is only withdrawing the sweetness of his presence. A good Father is sending his dear child into a higher school. The absence of the Father is for the child’s good.
– Still, it would be nice to live and work longer…
True, but even Jesus, by the plan of the Father, had to end his earthly life in the thirty-third year. And in what a way!
– Truly, pain is something great and valuable!
– Yes, in it the man himself creates his gift to the Lord. A willing acceptance of death drains from man his “I”. This tiny “I” disappears in God’s immeasurable greatness. But it is precisely in this embrace that he finds the full happiness of a child.
– Sacrifice, complete sacrifice! I say, the time of sacrifice has come.
– Let us submit this sacrifice with a magnanimous dedication.
– L’abandon! Full abandon! To give everything, with a filial love.
– Well – fiat! Your will be done!…
Already on earth his personal will was so much in harmony with God’s will that in heaven too, he will continue to work for souls.
– Couldn’t I postpone the surgery for a little bit at least? – he asked for the second time.
– Are you able to work? – asked his confessor.
– I can, a little bit, answered Ivan. – And the physician tells me that without surgery my capacity to work will be less and less!
– Shouldn’t you go to Vienna for a check-up?
I thought of that. But the finances? I wouldn’t like to be a burden to my parents. And the school? Admittedly, I completed the material, there is a little bit left to finish. If I go to Vienna, I couldn’t return in time to complete it.
– But our physicians are good.
– Everybody praises them. They say it is dangerous to postpone the surgery.
– Well, there is no other choice then, but to go.
– In God’s hands! – he said, surrendering his soul already in advance.
The Lord wanted him to die among Croatian youth; he lived for it in the body, and he will continue living as its ideal. Our last conversation was on certain drawbacks among the Eagles and how the only medicine for such superficiality is a substantial sacrifice, according to the words of the Savior: “Unless a wheat grain falls into the earth and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest” (John 12:24). And with this thought he bade farewell: “Yes, I have been convinced of that for a long time: one ought to sacrifice! I am ready!
He spoke similarly with Dr. Beluhan and Dr. Kniewald. In the end, when he had all the preparations made with the physician regarding surgery, he revealed to his parents that he is going to the hospital. (…)
On 25 April 1928, he ordered in an exemplary manner the library and all his documents, received Holy Communion in the basilica of the Most Holy Heart, and went to the clinical department for throat and nose. The next morning, Professor Dr. Mašek operated on him. Excessive bleeding ensued and, as the physicians themselves admitted, there was a danger of his dying right away. They gave him all their attention and somehow managed to stop the bleeding, but soon after, an inflammation of the brain ensued. (…). In spite of all the efforts of the physicians, there was no help for Ivan and the loss of consciousness and terrible cramps became more and more frequent and lasted longer. He spoke once again with his confessor in full consciousness, and the second time, when receiving the Anointing of the Sick, he could communicate only by movements of his body. The confessor reminded him of their last conversation about sacrifice. (…) Seeing that Ivan was really offering the sacrifice of his life, he reminded him of their conversation about the Eagles and asked whether there is something he wished to say? Ivan confirmed, and the confessor told him: “You are sacrificing your life for the Croatian Eagles?” At that moment, Ivan’ face brightened and there was a glint in his big eyes, as if he wanted to smile with his wounded face and he nodded with his head. With this we parted. (…) The day before his death Ivan received a telegram from the Holy Father which reads: “The Holy Father blesses the ill Dr. Merz and invokes upon him divine help. – Cardinal Gaspari.”
Former hospital in Zagreb in Franje Račkoga Street 4, in which Ivan Merz died. Inside the circle is the window of his hospital room. Today, this building is an elementary school which from the year 1993 bears the name “Dr. Ivan Merz”. In the room on the first floor the place is marked where Ivan’s hospital bed was, the last station of his earthly life.
T E S T A M E N T
24 April 1928
On 25 April 1928 Ivan went to hospital, after attending Mass and receiving Communion in the Basilica of the Heart of Jesus where he went regularly every day. The hospital – Clinic for ear, nose and throat – was situated in Draškovićeva street.2 He was operated on the next day.
Before going to the operation, Ivan, sensing an imminent end of his earthly life, wrote his testament. It was probably on 24 April 1928, a day before going to the hospital. His father found it in an envelope with an inscription “Testamentum” in the drawer of his desk after Ivan’s death. The testament, written on a single sheet of paper, is actually his epitaph. He composed it in Latin, adding three words in Greek. The inscription reads as follows:
Decessit in Pace fidei Catholicae.
Mihi vivere Christus fuit et mori lucrum.
Expecto misericordiam Domini et inseparabilem
plenissimam aeternam possessionem Smi Cordis Jesu.
I. M. dulcis in refrigerio et in pace.
Anima mea attinget finem suum quare creata erat.
EN THEŌ KYRIŌ
Here is the English translation:
He died in the peace of the Catholic faith.
For me to live was Christ, and to die is gain.
I expect the mercy of the Lord and an undivided,
full eternal possession of the Most Holy Heart of Jesus.
I(van) M(erz) blessed in refreshment and peace.
My soul will reach the goal for which it was created.
In God our Lord
Facsimile of Ivan’s testament in Latin. This is the last document
which he wrote with his own hand before death.
The second sentence of the testament is a quotation from Paul’s epistle to the Philippians: “For me to live is Christ…” (Phil 1:21). In quoting this sentence he firstly placed the Latin verb in the present tense – est (is), as is in the original. But later, experiencing the fact that he is already dead, he crossed it and placed fuit i.e. “was”. So, the sentence now reads: “For me to live was Christ…” At the end, Ivan added three words in Greek, a language he didn’t know. Although they are not clearly written, we can conclude that he wanted to express this thought: “In God the Lord”. To that he added the ancient Christian sign, two initial letters of Christ’s name in Greek blended into one: XP.
Ivan wrote his testament in Latin, the language of the Church. With this he wanted once again to confirm his faith and belonging to the one, holy, apostolic and Roman Catholic Church. Apart from the abovementioned quotation from the New Testament (Phil 1:21) in the text there are two other sentences which Ivan took over from the inscriptions in the Roman catacombs. These are: “Decessit in pace fidei catholicae” and “Dulcis in refrigerio et in pace.”3 With these quotations Ivan wanted once again to confirm his love and unity with the source of Christianity, with the faith of the early Roman Christians and martyrs. The text of his testament is today an epitaph on the white marble plate above his grave in the Basilica of the Heart of Jesus in Zagreb.
With these words of his testament Ivan once again professed his deep, strong Catholic faith which was his vocation in life. In these last sentences which he put on paper he once again solemnly professed all three cardinal virtues – faith, hope and love – which were the foundations of his sanctity. Believing in Jesus Christ who was his life, he expected with certain hope his mercy and the possession of the love of his Most Holy Heart whom he sincerely revered here on earth, as he had confirmed once again at the beginning of the last section of his Diary, on 21 January 1928: “All for the glory of the Most Holy Heart of Jesus!”
Ivan passed away and entered eternal life on 10 May 1928 at 10:25 a.m. Around 11:30 the bell of the Zagreb cathedral announced to Zagreb and the whole of Croatia that Ivan parted from this world and entered the beatific world which God promised to those who believe in him and love him. The Lord of life demanded and accepted his sacrifice for his greater glory and for his and our greatest good.
The news that Ivan went into eternal life spread with great speed throughout Zagreb, and then all of Croatia. All Catholic Zagreb gathered on Sunday, 13 May in the Mirogoj Cemetery for the last farewell to the great apostle of Croatian youth. They were joined by numerous delegates from various Catholic organizations throughout Croatia. The estimates say that around 5000 persons were present at the funeral. The funeral was led by the auxiliary bishop Dr. Dominik Premuš. From the number and the reputation of the persons, it was a funeral which Zagreb hadn’t seen since the death of bishop Josip Lang. He was buried firstly in an ordinary grave near the Arcades, and in 1930 his body was transferred into the large family grave on the south-eastern part of the cemetery. Due to the process of his beatification, his body was taken in 1977 into the new tomb in the Basilica of the Heart of Jesus where it is kept today.
Ivan’s significance for the Church in Croatia was best expressed by the youth from Vinkovci who brought to his grave a wreath with a banner on which there is the following inscription: “Thank you, Eagle of Christ, for showing us the way to the Sun”. With his saintly life, Ivan really showed and continues to show the way to Jesus Christ, the spiritual sun of our life.
BLESSED IVAN MERZ APOSTLE AND SPIRITUAL DOCTOR
This large altar painting of the Bl. Ivan Merz was painted by Anto Mamuša for the first anniversary of his beatification, which was celebrated on 10 May 2004. The painting portrays Blessed Ivan as a doctor of Christian life in faithfulness and union with the Catholic Church. This is indicated in his posture which is a posture of speaking and the stand from which he is lecturing. In the background is the silhouette of the Pope, St. John Paul II who proclaimed him Blessed. In the painting are two churches with whom Merz was specially connected: the Basilica of the Heart of Jesus in Zagreb and the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome. In the sky in the form of the sun, there shines the symbol of the Eucharist which was the central source of the spiritual life of Blessed Ivan. In the lower left corner is the image of the Servant of God Marica Stanković who was strongly influenced by Bl. Merz and who, on his incentive, established the first lay institute in Croatia – the Female Co-Workers of Christ the King. In the background, we also see a multitude of young and adult Croatian believers, admirers of the Bl. Ivan to whom he became a model and who follow his “way to the Sun”. This altar painting of the Bl. Ivan Merz is placed alongside his tomb in the Basilica of the Heart of Jesus in Zagreb.
The important texts about the Bl. Ivan Merz
After the death of the Bl. Ivan Merz and his entry into eternal life, a number of approbatory articles, brochures, books, various studies, five doctoral dissertations and other publications were published about him.4 The peak of the public recognition of his sanctity was certainly his beatification in Banja Luka on 22 June 2003. On that occasion, Pope John Paul II made known the official position of the Catholic Church about the Bl. Ivan Merz, her thinking about this faithful son for whom “life was Christ”.
We, therefore. cannot end his Diary without mentioning at the end the fulfilled goal towards which Ivan was climbing, and that is the public recognition of his sanctity at his beatification. Along with the most important texts from the beatification of the Bl. Ivan, we added several others in chronological order. The first, with which I begin this Appendix was written immediately after Ivan’s death by Mr. Dušan Žanko, a well-known Croatian Catholic intellectual and a close friend and co-worker of Bl. Ivan Merz. In his article, Homo catholicus, he summarized all the thoughts and declarations which various authors, friends and contemporaries of Ivan Merz said about him.
After the texts and documents from beatification, we couldn’t leave out what the successor of St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI thought and said about the Bl. Ivan Merz. Actually, he already unofficially canonized him in a way, because he listed him among the eighteen greatest worshipers of the Eucharist among the saints of the Catholic Church.
These chosen texts about the Bl. Ivan Merz with which we conclude this 4th volume of his Collected Works bear witness to how Ivan’s sanctity was accepted in the hearts and souls of those who got to know him during his life, or those who befriended him through his writings and works which he left us as his heritage.
Dr. Ivan Merz
Orlovska misao, Zagreb, May 1928–1929, No. 8, pp. 97–98
DUŠAN ŽANKO (1904–1980)5 was a close friend of Ivan Merz in the Zagreb period of his life. They were together in the leadership of the Eagle organization. As a pronounced Catholic intellectual and a man of thoroughly Christian views, he understood Ivan well, particularly his spirituality and his apostolic work. After Ivan’s death, he wrote about him several high-quality papers, the best of which is an essay, The Soul of Dr. Ivan Merz (in Croatian), published on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Ivan’s death in the magazine Život, No. 5, 1938, pp. 245-273. This essay is generally taken to be the best presentation of the personality and spirituality of Ivan Merz. It was reprinted several times in later publications, and can also be accessed on Ivan Merz’s web page.6 It is too long to be reprinted here again, but we have chosen instead another article entitled Homo Catholicus in which Mr. Žanko summarized the most essential facts about Merz. With his literary talent, he perfectly expressed what all the contemporaries who knew Ivan from up close thought about him and how they experienced him. Below, we feature the article Homo Catholicus by Dušan Žanko:
You can call him pious, pure, conscientious, apostolic, the embodiment of the Eagle virtues, angelic, holy – but I will always call him a Catholic man. Aren’t we all Catholics? No, we aren’t! I read a lot about Catholic lay persons, but Dr. Ivan was the first living lay Catholic whom my eyes, weary of a skeptical search for a Catholic man, met. He was a pure and perfect Catholic: Catholic with the Pope and for the Pope, Catholic in whom all the holy books come to life, all the Church fathers, all the councils, all the dogmas, all encyclicals, all ceremonies, all the commandments, all the syllabuses, all the catechisms, all the infallibilities, all the bishops, all the priests, all the tabernacles, all the poor, all the religious the world over. Are there such Catholics among us?
Dr. Ivan was a Catholic chiseled from a single block, consisting all of one idea, all of one color, Catholic from the depths, all the way to the top.
Dr. Ivan lived in the Church, in Christ – in the spiritual Church, in the material Church, in the Christ’s Body, in Christ’s spirit, in Christ who is both man and God.
The Catholicism of Dr. Ivan Merz is not the modern Catholicism where the social position holds priority compared to the position of one’s soul, where everything is channeled into earthly values (politics, economy, careers) under the guise of religious ones. Ivan’s Catholicism was not satisfied with nicely packed formalism, with enticing compromise and opportunism, even if it lies within the ranks of the Church, or social or literary circles.
His Catholicism was concentrated in the Host with which he nourished his spirit and his heart daily, in the Pope with whose encyclicals he fed his mind daily; in the Eagle apostolate, in which he daily perfected his will.
He had no enterprise of his own, nor comfort. He was given for others, for God’s sake. His work, his studies, his silence, all of that is saturated with the thought of God, yearning for the Eternal. We drank this thought, this yearning daily from his eyes, his words, his movements, because everything was permeated with the Divine; everything was transparent, spiritualized, all without a trace of obtrusiveness.
He lived and walked among us as a miracle, i.e. as a Catholic man. He was an outgrowth of our milieu, but remained pure before his vow of chastity, prayed before his daily Communion, listened to the Church all the way to perfect obedience. We, on the other hand, always find excuses: the rotten environment, the way we were brought up, the spirit of our century, nationalism without any guilt on our part, shaken authorities, the predisposition to think “originally”, stubbornly, individually. There, that is why Dr. Ivan was a miracle of today’s epoch, and such miracles can only emerge from the one, infallible, religious-ecclesiastical Catholicism.
Why did God send us the likeness of this lay Catholic man, Dr. Merz?
To show us how to live in a Catholic way, to correct and perfect our own Catholicism, to focus the meaning of our apostolate on the Church, to make Heaven the goal of our efforts, Heaven in which he now prays for our Catholicism: Homo Catholicus
POPE JOHN PAUL II ON IVAN MERZ
Speeches on the beatification and Apostolic breve
Banja Luka, 22 June 2003
Posters like this throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina announced the arrival of the Pope John Paul II and beatification of Ivan Merz on 22 June 2003.
Pope John Paul II, even before the beatification, often mentioned Ivan Merz in public. It was mainly in welcoming speeches in Croatian language addressed to young Croats who used to come on pilgrimages to Rome in the days around 1 May (1980, 1981, 1982, 1983).7 Cardinal Franjo Šeper informed the future pope, Wojtyla, about Ivan Merz already during the 2nd Vatican Council. The Pope often mentioned this in private conversations. The peak of Pope John Paul II’s advocacy of Ivan Merz and acknowledgement of his sanctity was Ivan’s beatification which occurred in Banja Luka on 22 June 2003. On that occasion the Pope made several speeches, of which we chose to publish the two most important ones. In addition, we publish the official document of beatification – the Apostolic breve.
The brief introductory speech at the Beatification Mass which Pope John Paul II gave at the beginning of the ceremony of beatification is particularly important and interesting. For the sake of comparison, the Holy Father made such an introduction only at the beatification of Ivan Merz, while in the beatification masses for A. Stepinac and M. Petković there was no such introduction. In this introduction, he, among others, mentioned five qualities of the Bl. Ivan: witness, protector, fellow-traveler, example and model.
After the act of beatification proper, the Pope’s homily followed. This is an official speech in which he described the most important elements of the sanctity of the Bl. Ivan Merz.
However, the most important document of all is the Apostolic breve, an official papal document published in Acta Apostolicae Sedis about the beatification that took place. We publish this document as a crown of the official acknowledgement of the sanctity of Ivan Merz on the part of the Catholic Church, through the words of her Supreme Pontiff.
Solemn Mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II at the beatification of Ivan Merz in Banja Luka on Petrićevac on 22 June 2003. Around 70,000 faithful participated.
Pope’s introduction at the beatification mass for Ivan Merz
Petrićevac, Banja Luka, 22 June 2003
“Dear brothers and sisters, Christ Jesus, the light which enlightens every man who comes into this world, wishes that his disciples be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Sons and daughters of this land, as a witness of the suffering and glory of the Lord, I wish to celebrate this Eucharist: the sacrifice of praise and an offering of reconciliation and peace. The light of Christ shines in one of the sons of the Banja Luka Episcopate: in Ivan Merz who will, during this ceremony, be declared blessed. He was a believer in a lay profession, brave and a model to follow, a man of culture and sensitive to the divine service, immersed in the supernatural, actively engaged in the spreading of the Kingdom of God. It is him whom I wish to give to you as a witness of Christ and protector, and at the same time a fellow-traveler on the path through your history, in the rebuilding of what was destroyed by violence, in the reconciliation between individuals and families, in the promotion of true social renewal in justice and peace. From this day on, he will be a model for the youth to follow, an example for lay believers. Let us focus our eyes on Christ Jesus and on this weekly feast of the Resurrection, i.e. Sunday, humbly pray that he may be present among us and reward us with his immeasurable mercy.”8
The speech of the Pope John Paul II at the beatification mass for Ivan Merz
Petrićevac, Banja Luka, 22 June 2003
1. “You are the light of the world.“ This claim, dear brothers and sisters, Jesus repeats today to us too, on this Eucharistic gathering. And this is not a mere sermon, but a statement, which expresses the indestructible demand which proceeds from the received baptism.
Namely, the human being is by the force of this sacrament grafted into the Mystical Body of Christ (cf. Rom 6:3-5). The apostle Paul says: “For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ” (Gal 3:27). Justifiably, therefore, pronounces St. Augustine: “Let us rejoice and give thanks: we became not only Christians, but Christ… Admire and exult: we became Christ” (In Ioann. Evang. tract., 21, 8: CCL 36, 216).
But Christ is the “true light which enlightens everyone” (John 1:9). A Christian is therefore called to become on his or her part a reflection of this Light, imitating Jesus and taking Him as a model. In order to accomplish that, he will listen to His word and meditate upon it, participate consciously and actively in the ceremonial and sacramental life of the Church, execute the commandment of love and serve the brothers, especially the small, the poor and those who suffer.
2. Here followed the Pope’s greetings to the religious, Catholic and Orthodox dignitaries and representatives of state and civil local authorities, then the greetings to the faithful of the Islamic and Jewish religions. After that the Pope continued with these words:
And to you, my beloved sons and daughters of this pilgrim Church in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I come with open arms to embrace you and tell you that you occupy a special place in the Pope’s heart. The Pope incessantly presents in prayer to the Lord the suffering which still burdens your striding ahead and together with you he hopes and waits for better days.
From this town, which is marked by so much suffering and so much blood throughout history, I pray to the Almighty Lord to be merciful for all the acts of guilt committed against man, his dignity and his freedom, including those committed by the sons of the Catholic Church. Let Him inspire in all the wish for mutual forgiveness. Only in the atmosphere of true reconciliation, will the memory of so many innocent victims and their sufferings not go in vain and will motivate us to build new relationships of brotherhood and understanding.
3. Dear brothers and sisters, the righteous man, fully immersed in divine light, becomes like a torch which shines and warms us. This is the message offered to us today by the character of the new blessed, Ivan Merz.
Ivan Merz was an accomplished young man, who knew how to increase the rich natural gifts which he possessed and achieved many human successes. We can speak about his life as a successful life. But, this is not the reason why his name today is listed among the ranks of the blessed. The reason why he is today added to the assembly of the blessed is his success before God. Namely, the great yearning of his life was “never to forget God and always strive to be united with Him” (Diary, 5 February 1918). In everything he did he searched “the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus”, and allowed Him to “take hold of him” (cf. Phil 3:8, 3:12)
4. Following the school of liturgy, which is the fountain and pinnacle of the life of the Church, Ivan Merz was formed to the fullness of Christian maturity and became one of the promoters of the liturgical renewal in his homeland.
Participating in the mass, and feeding himself with the body of Christ and the word of God, he found a motivation to be the apostle of youth. It is not by chance that he chose for himself a motto: “Sacrifice – Eucharist – Apostolate”.
Aware of the vocation which he received at baptism, he made his life into a run towards sanctity, this “great measure” of Christian life (Cf. Novo millennio ineunte, 31). For this reason, as the first reading tells us, “his name will never be blotted out, unfading will be his memory, through all generations his name will live” (Sir 39:9).
5. For a whole generation of young Catholics the name of Ivan Merz meant a program of life and work. And it must be the same today! Your homeland and your Church, dear young people, have experienced difficult moments and now you ought to work in order to put life into motion again in all the fields of life. For this reason, I am addressing you all and ask you not to retreat, not to give in to the temptation of weakness, but to increase your efforts so that Bosnia and Herzegovina might become again a country of reconciliation, encounter and peace.
The future of these lands depends on you, too. Do not seek a comfortable life elsewhere, do not flee from your responsibility waiting for someone else to solve your difficulties, but confront evil valiantly with the power of the good.
I advise you all to seek, like the blessed Ivan did, a personal encounter with Christ who illuminates life with a new light. Let the Gospel be that great point of reference which will govern your strivings and your commitments! In such a way, you will become the missionaries with words and deeds and will be a sign of God’s love, trustworthy witnesses of Christ’s merciful presence. Do not forget: “Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket” (Matthew 5:15).
6. Brothers and sisters, you who participate in this feast with such dedication, let the peace of God the Father, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and spirit in the knowledge and love of God and his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ!
This is a prayer and a desire which the Pope today – with the intercession of the blessed Ivan Merz – elevates for you and all the peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
The moment of declaring Ivan Merz Blessed, Banja Luka, 22 June 2003
A joint prayer which the Pope prayed after the beatification
God, our Father, the blessed Ivan, loyal to his baptismal call to sanctity, worked diligently for the education of youth in faith and Christian life. Grant to us too that we, strengthened by his intercession and motivated by his example, faithfully and courageously proclaim the Gospel and bear witness to it. In our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Apostolic breve – the official pontifical document on the
proclamation of the beatification of Ivan Merz
Apostolic breve is an official pontifical document with which the Pope John Paul II acknowledges and confirms that he conducted the beatification of the Bl. Ivan Merz in Banja Luka. Apostolic breve is also the last administrative act with which the longstanding process of beatification of the first lay person of the Church in Croatia, Ivan Merz, is concluded. It is written in Latin, but it was read by the Holy Father in Banja Luka in Croatian. It bears the date of beatification, 22 June 2003, and it was signed, on Pope’s order, by the State Secretary of the Vatican, Cardinal Angelo Sodano. At the end of the document is the papal seal with the symbol of a boat and image of St. Peter, and in the semi-circle is the Pope’s name in Latin: Ioannes Paulus PP. II. Apostolic breve is published in the official gazette of the Holy See: Acta Apostolicae Sedis, Commentarium Officiale, N. 2, 4. februarii 2005. The document contains a brief overview of the life of the new Blessed and summarizes the basic features of his sanctity and his rich spiritual life which he himself expressed succinctly: “Catholic faith is my vocation in life”. Below, we publish the translation of this document.
IOANNES PAULUS PP. II
ad perpetuam rei memoriam
POPE JOHN PAUL II
In permanent memory
“Catholic faith is my vocation in life”. This sentence, which the young layperson Ivan Merz wrote to his mother during his studies in Paris in 1921, summarizes his whole short, but spiritually rich life, especially marked by love of the holy liturgy and above all towards the Most Holy Eucharist from which he drew the energy for the service that he rendered to the Church in educating youth.
He was born in Banja Luka on 16 December 1896, where he graduated from high school in 1914. He was brought up in a liberal environment. An important influence on his Christian life was exerted by his high school teacher Dr. Ljubomir Maraković, a pronounced Catholic layman. Due to World War I, he interrupted his studies and was sent as a soldier to the battlefield where he experienced all the horrors and misery of war, but this experience focused him even more towards God. His decision was: “Never to forget God. Always strive for union with him… It would be terrible if this war had no benefit for me. I must begin a new, regenerated life in the spirit of a new Catholic awareness.” (From the Diary, 5 February 1918).
After the war, he continued studies firstly in Vienna, and then in Paris. In 1922, he returned to Zagreb where he taught the French and German languages. All the way to his death he was a teacher at the Archiepiscopal High School in Zagreb. In 1923, at the University in Zagreb, he attained a doctorate in philosophy with a dissertation on the influence of liturgy on French writers. While he worked as a teacher, he privately studied Christian philosophy under the leadership of Fr. Alfirević. His life, apparently ordinary and simple, was entirely dedicated to the upbringing of Croatian youth. His spiritual ascent was unusual: without a family, without a novitiate, without a seminary, without a permanent spiritual director, guided by the Holy Spirit, he found his way to sanctity. His spiritual development is seen from his diary: he was not a “born saint”, but a young man who fought for faith and moral good and accomplished victory. He loved the Church, the Most Holy Eucharist, the Pope and this love he tried to instill with all his powers into the hearts of Croatian youth. His spiritual life was grounded in the holy liturgy, i.e. on a daily participation at the holy mass, adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament and other forms of devoutness. Already as a 19-year old he made a vow of chastity until marriage. In his 27th year of life, when it was fully clear to him that the Lord wanted his whole heart, he made the vow of eternal chastity. He strengthened the virtue of chastity by his filial devotion to the Virgin Mary. This Venerable Servant of God was primarily known as the apostle of youth, firstly in the Croatian Catholic Youth Association, and then in the Croatian Eagle Association to which he dedicated his soul and with which he commenced in Croatia the Catholic Action as Pope Pius XI wanted. His vision was that the organization would educate chosen young men who would be the apostles of sanctity. To this he added work on liturgical renewal which he promoted in Croatia, thus anticipating the ideas of the Second Vatican Council. He was not without difficulties in his apostolate, but he carried them with an admirable peace of mind, thanks to a close union with God in prayer. He dedicated his mental and bodily sufferings to the Lord for the spreading of God’s Kingdom and for the salvation of souls. He died in Zagreb on 10 May 1928 with a reputation of sanctity. His grave in the Basilica of the Heart of Jesus in Zagreb, which he frequented in the last years of his life, is being visited by many faithful praying to the Servant of God. The process of beatification and canonization began in Zagreb in 1958. After having completed everything according legal regulations, on 5 July 2002 the Decree on Heroic Virtues was proclaimed. On 20 December, the same year a Decree of Miracle was proclaimed, referring to a miracle which happened at the grave of the Servant of God. We therefore decided to solemnly carry out the rite of beatification on 22 June 2003 during our pontifical visit to Bosnia. And so today in Banja Luka, during the solemn mass we pronounced this formula:
“We, in granting the desire of our brother the Archbishop of Zagreb Josip Bozanić and numerous other brothers in episcopacy and numerous faithful, having deliberated upon the opinion of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, with our apostolic authority allow that the Servant of God Ivan Merz from now on be called Blessed and that every year on the day of his birth for heaven, the tenth of May, his memory may be commemorated at locations and in a way foreseen by canonical regulations. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
We wish this to remain in force now and in the future, irrespective of anything that might be opposed to it.
Datum Banialucae, sub anulo Piscatoris, die XXII mensis Junii, anno MMIII, Pontificatus Nostri quinto et vicesimo.
Given in Banja Luka, under the ring of the Fisherman, on the 22nd day of the month of June 2003, and twenty-fifth year of our pontificate.
Pope John Paul II
On the order of the Supreme Pontiff
Angelus Card. Sodano, Secretary of State
POPE BENEDICT XVI AND THE BL. IVAN MERZ
Pope Benedict XVI
The successor of the Pope John Paul II in the chair of the Bishop of Rome, Benedict XVI, had a particular relationship with the Bl. Ivan Merz and the opportunity to acquaint himself intimately with his life which greatly impressed him.
While still a Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he was a member of the commission of cardinals in the Congregation for the Causes of Saints which has the task to approve the finalization of the process of beatification of the altar candidates. In this capacity, it was his duty to read the Position9 of Ivan Merz and thus acquaint himself intimately with him. In this way, he gained a personal conviction about Merz’s spiritual greatness and sanctity which he later mentioned and confirmed on several occasions.
Bl. Ivan Merz in the Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum caritatis of the Pope Benedict XVI.
Two years after Cardinal Ratzinger became pope in 2007, he published an Apostolic Exhortation about the Eucharist Sacramentum caritatis. In No. 94 of this official document he included the Bl. Ivan Merz among 18 great saints of the Catholic Church who especially excelled in the veneration of the Eucharist. It thus happened that Ivan Merz, although not yet proclaimed saint, gained the honor to be numbered among the extraordinary company of saints such as St. Benedict, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis, etc. Below, we publish a part of the text from the conclusion of the Apostolic Exhortation No. 94 in which the Bl. Ivan Merz is mentioned.
“Eucharist stands at the source of every form of sanctity and each one of us is invited to the fullness of life in the Holy Spirit. How many saints made their own life authentic, thanks to their devoutness to the Eucharist! From St. Ignatius of Antioch to St. Augustine, from St. Anthony the Abbot to St. Benedict, from St. Francis of Assisi to St. Thomas Aquinas, from St. Clare of Assisi to St. Catherine of Siena, from St. Paschal Baylon to St. Peter Julian Eymard, from St. Alphonse M. Liguori to the Bl. Carl Foucauld, from St. John M. Vianney to St. Therese from Lisieux, from St. Pio from Pietrelcina to the Bl. Teresa of Calcutta, from Bl. Pergiorgio Frassati to the Bl. Ivan Merz, just to mention some among the many names, sanctity always found its focus in the sacrament of the Eucharist.”
The mention of the Bl. Ivan Merz in this papal document is a new and great recognition of his sanctity after beatification, and also a tribute to the Church in Croatia for having such a personality who can be presented with justification in front of the entire world as a spiritual giant.
Pope Benedict XVI prays to the Bl. Ivan Merz
The bishop of Banja Luka Franjo Komarica met with the Holy Father Benedict XVI on 5 March 2008 at the end of the general audience in the hall of Pope Paul VI. On that occasion, it was the Pope who mentioned the Blessed Ivan Merz and added how he prays to him every day. This is a statement given by Bishop Komarica:
“Having been in Rome from 1 until 8 March 2008, I was also present at the general audience with the Holy Father Benedict XVI on Wednesday, 5 March. After the end of the official part of the audience, the visiting bishops went to individually greet the Pope. When my turn came, Pope flashed a smile and, stretching his arms towards me, said in German: ‘O Bishop Komarica, you have a great Blessed among you, really great!’ – thinking, of course, of the Bl. Ivan Merz. I responded: ‘Yes, Holy Father, thank God that it is so, I am glad that you know it and that you say so. We hope and pray that he may be declared saint as soon as possible.’ To this the Pope responded: ‘I hope too, and I pray to him every day!’”
Pope Benedict XVI and the Bishop of Banja Luka Franjo Komarica in the Vatican on 5 March 2008.
Pope Benedict XVI about the Bl. Ivan Merz at a meeting with youth in Zagreb on 4 June 2011
On the occasion of his pastoral visit to Croatia on 4 and 5 June 2011, Pope Benedict XVI in his speech in the central Zagreb square, during his meeting with the youth, spoke at some length about the Bl. Ivan Merz. We publish this segment of his speech:
“In this time of your youth you are supported by the testimonies of numerous disciples of the Lord who lived in their own time carrying in their heart the freshness of the Gospel. Remember Francis and Clare of Assisi, Rose from Viterbo, Therese of the Child Jesus, Dominic Savio. How many young saints in the great lap of the Church! But here, in Croatia, let you and I direct our thoughts to the Blessed Ivan Merz. A brilliant young man, fully involved in social life who, after the death of Greta, his first love, took the path of university studies. During the years of World War I, he found himself confronted with destruction and death, which however edified and shaped him, giving him strength to overcome the moments of crisis and spiritual struggle. Ivan’s faith became so strong that he dedicated himself to the study of liturgy and began a powerful apostolate among the youth. He discovered the beauty of the Catholic faith and realized that his vocation in life was to live and embody the friendship with Christ. How many wonderful deeds of love and goodness filled his path. He died on 10 May 1928 at the age of only 32, after several months of illness, dedicating his life for the Church and youth. This young life, given with love, carries the fragrance of Christ and is a call to all of us not to fear to dedicate ourselves to the Lord.”
Pope Benedict XVI greets young Croats on the Central Square in Zagreb on 4 June 2011.
Croatian youth on the Central Square in Zagreb on 4 June 2011 gathered to meet the Holy Father Benedict XVI.
by the postulator, Fr. Božidar Nagy, SJ
When the Religious Program of Croatian Television was filming a documentary about Ivan Merz, just before his beatification, the then Archbishop of Zagreb, Cardinal Franjo Kuharić, was asked to give his comment about the future blessed. After the filming of his contribution, where I myself was present, Cardinal Kuharić, escorting the TV crew toward the door, remembered something, stopped us and said: “You know, a far greater proof that God exists are saints on earth than the stars in the sky!” The motive for these words was, of course, Ivan Merz, because this was the reason of our visit and these words from the late cardinal related to him.
Fr. Božidar Nagy, SJ, postulator
Similar to Cardinal Kuharić, Ivan’s first biographer Dr. Dragutin Kniewald whom I often visited in the last years of his life told me on one occasion: “Ivan Merz is an enigma for the unbelievers, but for us Christians he is a revelation!” Dr. Kniewald, as Ivan’s close friend and co-worker, with his first biography of Ivan Merz, published in 1932, four years after Ivan’s death, was the first to inform the Croatian public with this “revelation” of God which was manifested through the soul and life of the blessed, and hopefully soon saint, Ivan Merz.
The life of any saint is incomprehensible unless we take into account that invisible, supernatural force which we call the grace of God, which changes the inner life of a person making him or her a new creature according to God’s plan. This was fully realized in the life of the Bl. Ivan Merz, as we could convince ourselves reading this Diary of his, this precious testimony of the acts of grace in his soul.
When we observe the unfolding of his life, we see that all the circumstances and situations in which Ivan Merz grew up and lived until his return to Zagreb were such that, by sociological laws they could have produced anything but a saint! He was brought up in a liberal family, without special religious education. His teacher, Dr. Lj. Maraković, remembering the young pupil Ivan, wrote about him: “In Merz, until the very end of high school, the feeling for religion and religious life was not awaken at all. It is an oddity that Merz was the only pupil during my entire work in Banja Luka whom in the 5th grade (he was then 14) I had to admonish during inspection in church, because after Transubstantiation he was holding his hands behind his back.” 10 After high school, Merz spent three months at the Military Academy where he was confronted on a daily basis with immorality of the military milieu in which he was forced to live, as we can see from his Diary. Thereafter, he studied in Vienna and Paris, moving around independently without any supervision, where he could have lived as he wanted and do whatever he liked to do. He participated in the war, passing through all its horrors which could have ruined the honorable traits which he inherited from his home, as was the case with many of his contemporaries. As is seen from his Diary, Ivan had the occasion to get to know life in all its aspects, not only reading numerous literary works, but even more through personal experience meeting many people of different world-views, upbringing and character and living in different situations. Through all that, thanks to God’s special Providence which kept vigil over him, Ivan passed unscathed, as a matter of fact strengthened in his deep Christian conviction which he acquired in the most unlikely of places: in war, on the battlefield, looking daily death in the eye.
When he returned from completed studies in Paris, one would expect him to come back “aware” of his value because he studied at the Paris Universities, convinced of his superiority, etc. However, from Paris there came a young graduate with a diploma, but also with his “ascetic regulations” according to which he lived fully permeated with God and moreover with a program of re-Christening the Croatian nation!11
In concluding we can only repeat the words of Cardinal Kuharić: “Ivan Merz is a wonder of God’s grace. His soul was seized by a special intervention from God, an extraordinary light and motivation was given to him, and he understood what it means to live the kingdom of God, bear testimony to it and reveal it to others.”12
Once again, we wish to put the reader on notice that the Diary of Ivan Merz, which reveals his soul like in a movie, is not his autobiography nor biography. True, it is the most important document which enables us to familiarize ourselves with the world of thoughts and ideas which were the building blocks of his subsequent great apostolic work which he undertook in the last six years of his life in Zagreb and throughout Croatia. However, in order to get a rounded view of the life and work of Ivan Merz, one ought to consult his biographies, as well as his Collected Works.
Thanking God for this great gift which he gave us in this young witness and apostle of the faith of our day and age, we conclude with the words of St. John Paul II spoken at the beatification of Ivan Merz in Banja Luka on 22 June 2003: “The light of Christ shines in Ivan Merz… I want to give him to you as a witness for Christ and your protector, but at the same time as your companion in the path through your history. From this day on, he will be a model for the youth, an ideal of the lay faithful.”
Božidar Nagy, SJ
1 Josip VRBANEK, A Knight of Christ – Dr. Ivan Merz, Zagreb, VKB and VKS, 1943, pp. 145–155. (in Croatian)
2 Today this building is an elementary school which, from the year 1993 carries the name of “Dr. Ivan Merz”. In the room on the first floor the place of Ivan’s hospital bed on which he ended his earthly life is marked.
3 Jos Janssens, SJ, Vita e morte del cristiano negli epitaffi di Roma anteriori al sec. VII., Roma, Univ. Gregoriana Editrice, 1981.
4 Bibliography of all the published texts and books about the Bl. Ivan Merz can be accessed on his web site: www.ivanmerz.hr
5 Biographical data about Dušan Žanko can be found in: Ivan Merz, The Influence of Liturgy on French Writers (in Croatian), Zagreb, 2013, p. 272.
6 This essay by Dušana Žanko was published in the Proceedings of the Symposium held in Zagreb in 1978. on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Bl. Ivan Merz’s death. It was also published in a special booklet Light on the Mountain (in Croatian), Zagreb, 1990, which contains all the works which D. Žanko published about Ivan Merz, among which is the essay The Soul of Dr. Ivan Merz (in Croatian). The same article can be found on the web page of the Bl. Ivan Merz, among the publications published about him.
7 Pope John Paul II speaks to the Croats (in Croatian), Zagreb, FTI, 2011, p. 60, 65, 69, 76
8 Papal Missal of the Beatification of the Bl. Ivan Merz, pp. 14-15.
9 Position is the official document with which, on the basis of the acts of the process and various testimonies it is being proven that a candidate for the altar possessed and lived by Christian virtues in a heroic degree. This is a type of an expanded biography with numerous documents about the life and activity of the future blessed and saint. Merz’s Position was written in the Italian language Msgr. Fabijan Veraja with the assistance of the Postulation of Ivan Merz, and it contains 1118 pages.
10 Ljubomir MARAKOVIĆ, “A Note” (in Croatian), Hrvatska prosvjeta, Zagreb, 25/1938, No. 7/8, pp. 337–339.
11 See Ivan’s letter to Dr. Maraković from Paris of 12 Sept 1921.
12 The speech of the Arcbishop of Zagreb, Cardinal Franjo Kuharić on the celebration of the Days of Ivan Merz in the Basilica of the Heart of Jesus on 10 May 1982. Published in: Card. Franjo Kuharić, Ivan Merz – the Wonder of God’s Grace (in Croatian), Zagreb, 2002, p. 34.