Z A G R E B
1922 – 1924
Texts of a diary character
View of Zagreb
After completing his studies in Paris in the autumn of 1922, Ivan got a job in the Archiepiscopal High School in Zagreb as a teacher of French and German. The next year, 1923, he attained a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Zagreb with a dissertation on the influence of liturgy on French writers. In autumn of that same year he passed the state teacher’s exam. After having achieved all the preconditions for the teaching profession and beginning working, Ivan immediately involved himself actively in the Catholic educational work with youth and in August 1923 was elected president of the Croatian Catholic Youth Association which by the end of that year merged with the Croatian Eagle Association, where Merz was co-founder and secretary.
These last six years of Ivan’s life were filled with numerous activities in the field of the Catholic lay apostolate and educational work with youth, particularly within the Eagle organization. He advocated intensely for the implementation of Catholic action, for the promotion of knowledge of pontifical teaching and following pontifical guidelines, worked on liturgical renewal, etc. During this period of intense external activity Ivan didn’t manage to keep his Diary. Only a couple of months before his death, he filled several pages leaving us precious information about his state of mind and suffering that he was undergoing at that time. However, from this period too, we possess his texts of a diary character, although they were not entered into his official diary notebook.
In the first place, there is his very interesting article under the title My Diarypublished by the newspaper Narodna politika. It is a report from his voyage to Milan in 1923 in which he describes in a diary manner the visit to some Catholic institutions that he was particularly interested in and wanted to organize something similar in Croatia.
A report and impressions from the 52nd French National pilgrimage to Lourdes in which he took part he published by the end of August 1924 in the Zagreb Catholic Gazette, in a series of articles in the form of a diary, and later published the same text as a brochure entitled The Most Recent Miracles in Lourdes. In the month of September of that same year, he spent several days in the Argent castle in France upon the invitation of the aristocratic family De Montbelle. He described this visit in the form of a diary which remained unpublished to this date. In it he gives very interesting observations about the French nobility and their lifestyle.
Especially important are his notes from three spiritual exercises which he performed in Zagreb in 1923, 1924 and 1926, as well as special notes from 1927 (Liber luminum) which can also be categorized as diary entries. These notes reveal to us the most intimate part of his spirituality and give us an insight in his personal relationship to God. We added to the above material his last decisions for a more perfect Christian way of life which he tried to carry out.
From the year 1925, we have a very interesting manuscript which we entitled a Spiritual Auto-profile. These are his answers to the questions in a survey which Dr. D. Kniewald submitted to two hundred young men, as part of the preparation of the guide-prayer book The Catholic Pupil.
Following the chronology of writing of individual texts, at the beginning of this line of texts of a diary character, we added one other of Merz’s important texts, his famous Foreword to the Golden Book. In this text the soul of Ivan Merz speaks out at the beginning of his public activities, enflamed by the fire of the apostolate which he wanted to share with the entire Eagle youth with whom he worked.
To these texts, we added his last very interesting letter written only three days before going to the hospital for surgery. He wrote it to his friend, Fr. Mate Blašković from Hvar. In this letter, he gave us insight into his soul immediately before his death. To this we added his last conversation of a diary character with his spiritual director, Fr. Vrbanek. Although it was not written by him, but by his spiritual director, we find here precious data about Ivan’s mood before death; Ivan was aware that God was seeking from him the sacrifice of life, to die young, but he was not taking this realization in a passive way, dedicating instead his death to God as a sacrifice for the Croatian youth.
Finally, we publish the last document written by Ivan’s own hand before death, entitled The Testament. This concerns the text for his tombstone inscription. This is the last, solemn confession of his deep faith.
Although they do not belong directly to his personal diary entries and texts, as a kind of solemn conclusion of Ivan’s life and his sanctity to which God’s invisible grace was leading him, we publish two texts of recognition of his success before God. The first is the article Homo catholicus which was published immediately after Ivan’s death by his close friend, catholic intellectual Prof. Dušan Žanko. The other text is the speech by Pope John Paul II on the occasion of Ivan’s beatification in Banja Luka on 22 June 2003. These texts are in a way the best expression of the reception of Ivan’s sanctity in the hearts and souls of those who knew him either during his lifetime, or later through the writings and works he left us as his heritage.
As was mentioned in the Introduction, this first written work by Ivan Merz, the Diary, is not his autobiography or a biography, but an important document by means of which we can enter the tabernacle of his soul which God gradually permeated and wherefrom the ideas, initiatives, programs came forth which he realized during the last six years, for the glory of God and the spreading of Christ’s Kingdom among souls. Although in the last years of his life he didn’t leave many texts of a diary character, he left us numerous other texts, some of which were published during his lifetime, and the majority still in manuscript form, which are not published within his Collected Works; these documents, papers, articles and studies are a great testimony of his soul which was filled with a zeal for God and the spreading of his Kingdom. Numerous works which he published during the last six years of his life are a fruit of the conviction which he carried deep inside himself and with which he came to Zagreb after completing his studies, and this is that “the Catholic faith is his life vocation”1. In these works, those published as well as those in manuscript we can read his spirituality, richness of his soul, etc. The essential characteristics of his spirituality – love towards the Church and papacy and fight for the Catholic action – find an especially strong expression in these works. It was not possible to publish here the testimonies of numerous witnesses, in order to perceive Merz in his full perspective. As we said in the Introduction, in order to fully experience and get to know Merz, it is necessary to consult his biography and in it those parts which focus on Ivan’s work in the last six years of his life.
Seal of the Croatian Eagle organization: eagle above the shield with a white cross and three letters Ž.E.A., standing for three words: Sacrifice – Eucharist – Apostolate. It was the password of the Eagle movement which Ivan Merz gave on the occasion of the founding of the Croatian Eagle Union in 1923 in which he was active until his death
VISIT TO CATHOLIC INSTITUTIONS
Milan, from 22 until 27 October 1923
The first text of a diary character from the period when Ivan didn’t keep his diary in Zagreb is the one from the 22nd until 27th October 1923. In it he describes his trip to Milan in the company of Dr. Maraković and Fr. Ante Radić , where he visited several Catholic institutions and met with respectable Catholic persons. This diary entry he published later in the newspaper Narodna politika (Zagreb, 10 January 1925, No. 2, p.3) under the title My Diary. We publish the entire text below:
Milan (Italy), 22 October 1923
We stayed with the Jesuit fathers in Corso Piazza Nuova. We went by ourselves to the Catholic University where a young lady explained to us the current position of the new institution. They count the semesters; only those who wish to take jobs with the state must pass the exams in state universities. This is the same system as we have seen in France, the relationship between the Catholic and state universities. That young lady praised the Fascist government which, in her words, always supports the Catholics and pays a great attention to the religious upbringing of youth.
Cathedral in Milan
In the shop windows, we saw a number of good Catholic books (8 via Boschetto) and we can attest first-hand that the Catholic production is very intensive. It seems that the most of the works are from the mystical field, liturgy, Christian poetry, female and social issues.
In the afternoon, Fr. Palaviccini, the outer priest of the Order of St. Ambrose, took us to the Enterprise of Cardinal Ferrari2. Along the way, he was telling us how the Catholic life in post-war Italy is richer and richer every day. Lately, Italy has been through difficult times. Those who returned from the war didn’t want to know anything about the Church. Capitalists, those who exploited the people in an inhuman way, pushed the workers into despair. In Italy, a serious revolution occurred, of which the foreign public remained ignorant because the Italian government spent a huge amount of money to silence the foreign press. The workers occupied the factories, sent armed guards onto the streets, made searches… In the “Diana” theatre, they threw bombs in the midst of a performance, killed the entire orchestra and a large number of spectators. The people here shook and wept in despair. Nevertheless, Italy was saved from the revolution – socialists were completely broken here. And what was that strong factor which made people realize that the socialist utopias are unrealistic? By all means, the Enterprise of Cardinal Ferrari is one of the most beautiful institutions I ever saw.
Catholic University of the Heart of Jesus in Milan
This is a lay order: there are three vows, and they are taken (if I’m not mistaken) for one year at a time. All of them are employees, and at the same time all of them – men and women – are religious. They have a department for men, for women and for the press. In the male department, there is a dining hall for 1500 people, apartments, schools for 3000 pupils. Everything is in grand style. Here are all the branches of technical education (sawing, typewriting, painting, ceramics, electrical engineering, school for locksmiths, church singing and another twenty-odd other professions).
The main secretary – a man who by his looks doesn’t differ from any other civilian – took us into the chapel, and then into another where the most holy Sacrament is displayed night and day and said that herein lays the strength of their entire enterprise. During the night from Thursday to Friday they stand vigil in front of the Most Holy, and the next day they work as if they had slept the night.
We saw again how a saint is the most modern man. Cardinal Ferrari established this institution, always in a modern way – using the most modern means (they have a wireless telegraph) – in order to spread the social Kingdom of the Most Holy Heart of Jesus.
Milan, 24 October 1923
Yesterday there were some unpleasant scenes at the meeting of Union catholique d’étude internationale. The Italians couldn’t understand that the French were against permitting entry to the Germans, and the French took offence because the Italians wanted Germans to enter immediately.
This day passed usefully. We bought – Ljuba and me – several ascetic and mystical books. In the above meeting, the Italians and the French reached an agreement and Mr. Raynald spoke about the Bureau Internationale de Cooperation Intellectuelle and showed how Catholics can exert a practical influence under the direction of this bureau.
We had lunch in the Enterprise of Cardinal Ferrari, and then we visited the Institute for foreign missions which doesn’t seem to have a place of prominence. In the “Brera” Gallery we observed Raphael’s Sposalizzia for a long time; otherwise, there are no especially valuable paintings in this gallery.
In the afternoon, the session was interesting: they spoke mostly about those countries which due to the low value of their currency or due to disorderly political circumstances have come to grief. We ought to strive that Catholic universities get help; that the scholarships are given to Catholics also.
The newspaper of the People’s Party L’Italia has a mass of big machines. They are in direct telephone link with Paris. If we compare this editorial office, administration, printing plant with ours, only then we realize how backward we are. Here there is a lot of faith – let us awaken it in our country as well, and we shall have similar institutions.
In Gabinetto Cattolico milanese, where an elderly lady greeted us warmly, there was nothing special.
Zagreb, 27 October 1923
In Certosa di Pavia3 we saw immense wealth, but it didn’t make a religious impression on me. On the sessions of the Union there were frequent clashes between the French and the Italian points of view. Don Sturzo4 impressed me as a man who knows the inner needs of the Italian people, but not the needs of the Church in the world. It seems as if his view reached only to the borders of Italy. Otherwise, he also advocated an unyielding international point of view: but, it seems to me, more as a theoretician who didn’t have a chance to come into contact with Catholics of other nations and understand their needs.
Miss Barelli5, the president of the Female Youth Union, showed me the disciplined work of Italian girls whose paper is printed in a circulation of 205,000. They recently published a liturgical handbook and will start to sing liturgically. In addition, they recently gathered all the medical specialists who designed female physical exercises for them. They also collected the greatest amount of money for the Catholic University. Mussolini, namely, declared that women must learn physical exercises, and the Female Union took it upon itself to fulfil this troublesome request.
Venerable servant of God Armida Barelli
On our return from Milan some railway men noticed how we cut the pages of Italian religious books. They were Catholic young men and we had a cordial exchange with them. In memory of our meeting we gave them a photograph of the Holy Father with the blessing of the Croatian Catholic Youth Association.
Relief of the Bl. Ivan Merz shows how he connects the Croats with Rome. It was made in 1991 by the sculptor Ante Starčević. Original work is in the Home of Croatian Pilgrims in Rome, and before its placement it was blessed by Pope John Paul II in the Vatican
NOTES FROM SPIRITUAL EXERCISES
Zagreb, from 7 until 9 November 1923
One of the means which Ivan highly praised for the advancement of inner life were spiritual exercises. They were present in his life during his studies and later activity in Zagreb. For the first time, he performed them as a student in Vienna during the Holy Week until Easter, from 31 March until 5 April 1920, and then in July 1921 in Paris. Upon returning to Zagreb he continued with this practice. From the year 1923 we have his notes from spiritual exercises which he performed from 7th until 9th November 1923 in the Basilica of the Heart of Jesus in Zagreb under the guidance of his spiritual director, Fr. Josip Vrbanek. Generally, the notes from the spiritual exercises are a precious document through which we can look into the soul of a person and his or her relationship with God. Ivan was no exception. These notes enable us a deep insight into his spiritual life. Certain words in the notes, such as “corrective” and “creates” Ivan underlined wishing to stress their particular importance for him. We put them into Italics.
According to the testimony of Fr. Josip Vrbanek, Ivan’s confessor and spiritual director, in these spiritual exercises Ivan decided that he will not have a family of his own and that he will dedicate his whole life and work to God. A month later, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, on 8th December 1923, Ivan took the eternal vows of chastity (See: J. Vrbanek – The Knight of Christ – Ivan Merz, Zagreb, 1943, p. 183 [in Croatian])
7 November 1923
No light during meditation.
The prayer of Confiteor (I confess) very clear. In it the fruit of the meditation is apparent. Especially: Quia peccavi nimis cogitatione verbo et opere (because I sinned a lot in thought, word and deed).
- Because God created us for his glory. He gave us the mental world which originates in Him and must be an extension of His inner life. Peccavi (I sinned): because it was not always like that with me.
- Because God created us for his glory. Our words must give only testimony about Him, must transmit His inner life into the souls of our neighbors. Peccavi (I sinned) because it was not always like that with me.
- Because God created us for his glory. He gave us the capability to create works which represent his inner life and give testimony of Him. Peccavi (I sinned) because it was not always like that with me.
When praying the Rosary, I meditate better when the prayer is oral (I could meditate even better if several persons prayed aloud).
Ivan Merz – teacher in Zagreb
I will serve God as a corrective in Catholic organizations because I perceive permanent deviations from real doctrines (Seniorate, Eagles, Domagoj).6
Representative of the idealism of Catholic Action in the seminary. No authority on the holy Liturgy.
Everything that happens to me, or people do to me, I must take as if it came from God himself and therefore nothing must disturb my inner peace. Always imagine that God and I are the only ones in the world.
The fastest and surest way to the goal – the salvation of my soul. If I remain in the world staying with my parents, going to school and attending meetings in organizations, writing for papers, there will be no strong movements in my life; everything will be a “messing about”. Do I enter a Church order? It is almost out of the question that my eyes could stand an intensive study (maybe an operation would help). So, how to save my soul with certainty? How to give full meaning to my life? I ought to take a vow of obedience to a group, an organization, which is unquestionably under the influence of the Holy Spirit, which unquestionably creates in its actions – main ones and those on the sidelines, great and small – the Kingdom of God. This could be the Catholic Movement if the Archbishop of Zagreb took care of it. But as his interest in the Catholic Movement is nowhere to be seen, and he is the only one to whom I could swear obedience, I must lean on an order which is by its international character independent of the hierarchy, but still creates The Kingdom of God.
Basilica of the Heart of Jesus in Zagreb, a place which Ivan visited daily. In the Jesuit monastery alongside the Basilica he performed his spiritual exercises in 1923.
8 November 1923
I must contemplate more frequently than I did until now about the evil of sin and various moments from the Old Testament. Only when I get to know and feel the meaning of sin, will I be able, full of love, to embrace the holy Cross which freed me from such a great, eternal misfortune. I must overcome human concerns so that they do not ruin those few moments that one can dedicate to eternal truths while living in the world.
I asked God would I like to see myself on my death bed as a priest or a religious. I didn’t get any particular illumination with regard to that. I would be completely happy if I died in the position in which I am. I only fear that in my work for Catholic organizations, writing and other actions I followed more my personal sympathies than what is in God’s greater interest. Therefore, it would be necessary that, continuing to work in the milieu where God’s will has placed me, I work according to someone’s directives, i.e. those whose calling and whose life is under a more direct influence of the Holy Spirit.
Bodily predispositions: weak eyes. Therefore: not to dedicate myself completely to intellectual work. Resistance of the body to tiredness, bad food, rain, hard bunk – predispositions which inspire me to travel to places where we have our organizations.
Predispositions of the soul: knowledge of languages and Catholic movements in different countries. To be a mediator between these movements and ours (the work of the corrector). Orientation in literature – judge it from the Catholic point of view. Same with Liturgy. If I write something, first give it to someone to read.
Just like the Savior broke away from his parents, my heart too will free itself of family bonds. I must fulfil the will of my Heavenly Father and be prepared to leave home when He demands it. Now, while I still live with my parents, I can live a free existence and work where the Catholic Movement demands irrespective of my parents. My obligation is to earn as much money as they need for a comfortable life and see to it that their life and work are according to the heart of God.
How sweet it is, Jesus, to be part of Your army, to serve under Your flag. I forget both my father and mother and everything what is dear to me when I remember Your heavenly presence and Your dear Mother. Jesus, I give myself fully to You! I would be the happiest if I could serve you in a place where there is continuous meditation about You and where continuous service to You is being rendered. I gather that you don’t want me to enter a religious order, because of what use would I be with my weak eyes; but, Jesus, You probably want me to serve you more perfectly in the position in which I am now. Is it Your desire that we establish a new brotherhood of Catholic lay persons who will pledge to serve You? Wouldn’t you like that in their program they have two-day spiritual exercises every month? Couldn’t they make a pledge that they will receive You every day and that they will pray daily according to the instructions of those who will be at the head of this brotherhood? And their apostolate would be ordered according to the instructions of these directors to whom they would make an obligation of obedience. Jesus, Your will be done!
Loquere, Domine, quia audit servus tuus! (“Speak Lord, Your servant listens!”)
Place in the pew in the Basilica of the Heart of Jesus in Zagreb from which Ivan followed the Mass every day. The open book is his French-Latin Missal.
9 November 1923
Jesus, when you show to the runner three goals and place a laurel wreath on each of them, who wouldn’t wish to grab the one which is furthest and to which it is most difficult to come? I ask you, Jesus, therefore, that in the social class which I have chosen, I always try to imitate You; not to seek any wealth of my own, to be obedient to Your incentives in my soul and the advice of my spiritual director whom You are using, and have no other Betrothed save You, my Savior. Do not allow me to ever disappoint you and give me strength to suffer with gladness and thus be ever more similar to You.
I ask you therefore, Jesus, the possibility that in my social class I always find enough time to contemplate eternal truths and to unite with you, my God, every day.
You are telling me, Jesus, to follow you. Therefore, I ask of you to burn from me all the ties that still bind me to my parents and sometimes make me flabby and indecisive in Your service. I therefore decide that from now on I will live in my family house a life fully dedicated to You. If I perceive that this life restricts me in fulfilling Your will even in the minutest detail and that in another position I could do more for Your glory, I promise that I will leave my family home.
I felt all the love of God, which is manifested in his immeasurable benevolence. In the benevolence of body and soul. He himself is present in all of them, he works giving us these gifts. He puts the universe in motion, the sun so that I might live, as well as the plants who feed me. But the greatest benevolence is where the immeasurable God gives himself to us. He is manifesting his greatness in the endless universe, in the great seas; his love in the sanctifying grace which fills these billions of tiny, unbelieving souls with Himself and makes them participants in the immeasurable. O, he is showing his immeasurable love not only through his benevolences, not only through his presence, not only by giving us his gifts, but by giving us his immeasurable being in the small Host for food.
O, the overflowing love of God, who gives such a gift beyond comprehension to such an insignificant speck of dirt which is man.
As a return gift to you, God, I give myself. Take me and do not allow me to ever look back and regret my choice. Let me accept the chalice of suffering and to invoke Your name on this earth, so that after that I might look at you face to face!
Jesus, without a spiritual renewal of Croatian people there is no real renewal. All the rest is merely messing about. This is the meaning of the words of the spiritual director. If you want me, Jesus, to become a religious – here I am! Give me the grace to leave for Your sake my father and mother!
FOREWORD TO THE GOLDEN BOOK
Ivan Merz’s Apostolic Program
Although it does not belong to the Diary proper, due to the importance of ideas which Merz puts forward in this text, we thought it necessary to include it in the book in this place, observing the chronological order of its creation. The ideas which ripened during Merz’s studies, which he courageously implemented and suffered for, which lived in him until his death, in this Foreword he put on paper. This Foreword was published in the 3rd volume of his Collected Works with a more extensive comment and within the entire text of the Golden Book to which it was dedicated7. In this text, we find the essence of his view of apostolic work and it reveals to us his deep conviction which he shared with his mother in a letter from Paris: “Catholic faith is my vocation in life”. It is therefore important to stress these ideas once again in this place where they chronologically belong, because they contribute to an even better understanding of his spiritual identity and richness of his soul.
After the Croatian Eagle Association was founded in Zagreb on 16 December 1923, Ivan Merz, who was a member of the Founding Committee, was entrusted with the task of preparing the Croatian edition of the Golden Book, the basic handbook of the organization for intellectual and spiritual formation of its members. This handbook already existed in the Slovenian language. Merz didn’t only translate the book, but expanded it and enriched it in many places with new elements of a religious and Church character. Merz wanted to root the new Eagle Association from its beginnings into the foundations of Catholic Action which was initiated by Pope Pius XI in Rome at that time. Merz drew the attention of the reader on all these novelties in his Foreword which we, therefore, classify as a magna charta of his apostolic work in which he laid out all the basic ideas on which the new organization was supposed to be built and according to which it was supposed to act. These were the ideas which he himself put into practice in his life and the entire Foreword is considered to be his apostolic program. When we read it, we perceive how the fervor and the enthusiasm of love for Christ and the Church permeate a young man who with his ideas wants to enflame other young souls and draw them closer to the values for which he himself was living.
Unfortunately, the Foreword in the form in which it was written and proposed was not published in the Golden Book. A group of Catholics, his co-workers which at that time did not accept the ideas of pontifical Catholic Action and were against Merz’s efforts to implement it in Croatia, removed his Foreword from the book at the time of its going into print. 8 By this very fact, this “martyred” Foreword gained in value and interest for us. Merz published parts of it in the Catholic Weekly four years later under the title “From the History of Croatian Eagle Organization” (in Croatian).9
“The Golden Book” – a spiritual handbook of the Eagle organization prepared by Ivan Merz. Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac as a member of this organization in his youth said of it: “This book is pure gold!”
Dr. Dragutin Kniewald in his biography of Ivan Merz describes the whole story about the removal from print of this “historical and martyr’s” Foreword: “Unfortunately, this Foreword, after it was already printed, was removed from the Golden Book. Nearly all the references were also removed which mention obedience, love and loyalty of the Croatian Eagles towards the Holy Father and local bishops. Dr. Ivan Merz cried – but it was not the cry of a weakling against the force against whom he could still fight. He saw that at this moment what he wanted to achieve was not possible at this point, and he strived to achieve in a step-wise manner what he couldn’t achieve at once. He began to propagate, defend and implement systematically these ideas among the ranks of the Eagles. Along with all the forced censorship on the part of the incompetent, the Golden Book, as prepared by Dr. Merz, contains a special chapter about the Church and spiritual director as a representative of the competent ecclesiastical authority, the religious demands are somewhat greater and the Catholic Action is consciously emphasized. Dr. Merz knew well and always stressed that the first aim of the Catholic Action is the Catholic social apostolate, i.e. the defense, spreading and consolidating of Catholic principles in a personal, family and public life.” 10
Let us add to this several remarks regarding new ideas which Ivan Merz introduced in the Golden Book, which were not present in the Slovenian edition. Already the first words on the cover (outside cover and inner title page) contained the novelty: Sacrifice – Eucharist – Apostolate. This is the motto which Merz gave to the new organization of Catholic youth at the foundation of the Croatian Eagle Association and which were accepted by the Founding Committee. Here, in brief, in three words, we find expressed the entire program which was later implemented by the members of the Eagles’ organization. This is the motto which Merz placed at the very beginning of the Golden Book, even before the title itself!
We now publish the text of the unpublished Foreword of Ivan Merz for the Golden Book in full, according to the original manuscript which is kept in his archive. 11
The Slovenian original of the Golden Book was published as early as 1910 by Mr. Franc Terseglav, its writer, who in an inspiring way laid out in it the ideology of the Slovenian Catholic youth of his time. He tried to give the book a lasting value and to serve all the future generations of the Slovenian Catholic youth. The eternal principles of the Catholic Church which he adapted to Slovenian circumstances were for him a guarantee that this small catechism will educate more than one generation of conscious Slovenian Catholics.
Nevertheless, many will wonder why we dared in spite of this to enrich and re-write this book. The key reason for this is that from the year 1910, i.e. from the publication of this book, organized Catholic Action developed in a magnificent way throughout the world and this grand life of the Catholic Church left among our youth its deep traces too.
What our older comrades were satisfied with, doesn’t satisfy us anymore. We needn’t fight so much in public to ensure the right of our existence, as they did with much enthusiasm and success. Public opinion today reckons with organized Catholic youth and there are few to whom it seems odd that an educated person can be a loyal son of the Catholic Church.
The new Catholic generation went one step further. It was engulfed in the waves of the rivers which flowed from the eternal Rome in the year 1905 when the late pope Pius X published a Breve 12 about a frequent and daily receiving of the Communion. The young generation cherishes the enchanting love towards our Savior present in the most holy Eucharist; here this generation draws the strength for its action, for its apostolate. While the older generation affirmed Christianity in an intellectual, apologetic way and showed enormous dedication in resisting the onslaught of liberalism, the new generation is calmer. It is in a constant and intimate touch with Jesus who reigns in their souls.
Linked with the above is the enchanting love of the young towards the holy Church, Jesus’ immaculate fiancée and its bishops and priests. They are convinced that the priests have the first and most important role in spreading of the Kingdom of God, and that the lay persons must join them; they must become their assistants. Therefore, we see that in other peoples the most illustrious members of Catholic youth societies went into seminaries, and it seems that soon that spirit will descend upon us too. This edition of the Golden Book has the purpose of returning to the priesthood that dignified place which the disciples of Jesus had.
From this Golden Book, it is also visible that youth has its eyes always directed toward Rome, where there is the lighthouse which illuminates the whole earth with its rays. It is from Rome that in recent times the guidelines came forth which reckon with Catholic Action as a fact and which define its role in a very precise way.
For this reason, in adapting the Golden Book, we mostly took into account those instructions which the last popes gave to the Catholic Action, especially the youth movement. Catholic Action includes, therefore, “…connected, organized Catholic forces for the protection, spreading, implementation and defense of Catholic principles in individual, family and social life.”13 As regards the organized Catholic youth itself, the Holy Father Pius XI – the pope of the Catholic Action – said clearly that it must strive towards its own religious, and then mental, cultural, social education.14 The Catholic youth movement must take care of the upbringing of the elite, of the upbringing of the apostles. The societies of Catholic youth must be – as was said in the Third International Catholic Youth Congress – real seminaries which will systematically educate the regenerators of human society; they must be the Church which listens – Ecclesiae audienti – real seminaries in which the assistants of the Church will be systematically educated by the Church who educates – Ecclesiae docentis.
It proceeds from the above that we today place on our youth far greater demands than could have been done a quarter of a century ago. For this reason, we determined in detail what are the religious duties of an Eagle, how many times (at least) he must receive Communion, what should be his relationship toward the Church and its members. While the older generation stressed more the love of God and people, among the young this love of God attained a more concrete form in the love of Jesus in the Eucharist, and the love of the people must be subordinated to the love of the holy Church.
May the good God grant us that the Golden Book in this form educates an army of apostles 15, an army of saints, which will spread to all corners of the Croatian homeland and conquer like Catholic knights the empire of human souls. Let it promote that everywhere among us the principles of the holy Roman Catholic Church prevail and that in such a way the Most Holy Heart of Jesus involves the greatest possible number of our brothers in its divine embrace!
Eagle company “Kačić” which was active in the Basilica of the Heart of Jesus in Zagreb from 1919 until 1929. Ivan often gave lectures to this group. In the middle (sitting) is the Jesuit Fr. Bruno Foretić, the spiritual director of the company. The picture was taken in 1929, immediately before the abolition of the Eagle organization on the part of the Belgrade regime.
THE MOST RECENT MIRACLES IN LOURDES
from 20 until 28 August 1924
An extensive text about the pilgrimage to Lourdes in August 1924 and about the most recent miracles which happened during this pilgrimage can certainly be classified among diary notes. He joined the 52nd French national pilgrimage to Lourdes which took place from the 20th until 28th August 1924. Merz published this text as a direct witness, in a diary form, describing exactly the happenings, on which date (sometimes also the hour) when they occurred. Merz published this diary review of the events in Lourdes in five parts in the Zagreb weekly Catholic Paper (in Croatian)16, and then the same year as a brochure under the title The Most Recent Miracles in Lourdes. The same text was translated into German and published in Osijek in German press as a special brochure.17
The fact that this article was published firstly in the Catholic Paper, the official organ of the Zagreb Archdiocese, shows not only its actuality and value, but also the respect which the author enjoyed on the part of the official Church hierarchy, thanks to which he got the opportunity, as a Catholic layman, to publish his works in the then most important official paper of the Archdiocese.
This diary presentation of the pilgrimage to Lourdes and the description of miraculous cures we published in full in the 2nd Volume of his Collected Works. For this reason, we do not publish it here, but direct the reader to this source. 18 Here, we publish only Merz’s Introduction in which he explains the purpose of writing of these articles.
“And he that saw it bears witness
and his witness is true“
Personal impressions on the occasion of the 52nd French national pilgrimage from 20 until 28 August 1924. A detailed description of the Office for medical examinations. How a miracle happens. How the physicians confirm it. Five miraculous cures. What the healed ones say.
This presentation of events at Lourdes does not have literary pretensions. These are excerpts from a diary of a pilgrim, a layman who tries to present as simply as possible what he himself saw and in such a way to act upon those who were not fortunate enough to convince themselves in person about the great events happening in Lourdes – about the miracles. The writer of these lines states with regret that he is not a physician, because otherwise he could in a much more thorough way understand the magnificence of divine intervention. He has also tried to present as accurately as possible what he saw. (…) We hope that this presentation will convince many readers about the strict rules observed by the Office for medical examinations which, on the occasion of the 52nd French national pilgrimage, declared only 5 of 17 miracles as “healings which surpass the forces of nature”. (…)
(See the continuation in 2nd Vol. of the Collected Works of Ivan Merz, Zagreb, 2011, pp. 307-333 – in Croatian)
Patients in front of the Grotto of apparitions in Lourdes
IMPRESSIONS ABOUT THE FRENCH NOBILITY
Argent – France, 15 September 1924
Another text of a diary character is Ivan’s report of the visit and several days’ stay in mid-September 1924 with the French noble family De Montbel in Argent in France. Merz never published this text during his lifetime. It was preserved in manuscript form in his Archive, as he wrote it. With his extraordinary gift of observation of even the minutest detail, he gave us an interesting description of the profile and social situation of the nobility of his time in France.
Argent, 15 September 1924 – (27 years and 9 months)
I was invited here by Mrs. Marguerite de Montbel, a countess, wife of Charles de Montbel. A purely monarchic noble family which played a rather important role at the time of the French monarchy. During the reign of Louis XVI, the ancestors of this family were governors of Berry, prefects of Toulouse. Their great-grandfather was the minister of finance of Charles X and went with him – if I rightly remember – into exile. Their grandfather was also in exile for many years with the Count of Chambord in Frohusdorf.
I am glad that I came into such a milieu; only now I can fully understand those French Catholics who are of a monarchic disposition. For them Catholicism and monarchy are two inseparable notions. They are Catholics, sincere Catholics and hate the French Republic. All that is evil stems from the Republic, every good comes from the Monarchy. A general right of vote is bad; so is the mandatory schooling. The latter was introduced in order that everyone can read the newspapers, by means of which people will be poisoned. The Republic allowed the unification of Germany, which the French monarchy would never have allowed. Had the Russian Tzar been energetic and hanged the Bolsheviks, revolution would never have gained ground in Russia. Louis XVI should have done the same. Germany should be broken into pieces. France ought to have a strong army. The French revolution confiscated the property of the Church and the nobility, it is evil incarnate.
These are the main thoughts of these monarchists. They hold that France will not be at peace until it has a king who will impose peace and order to his subordinates. Pope Leon XIII gave bad advice to the French to ally with the Republic. He was under the influence of Cardinal Rampolla.
For a long time, I tried to find out what is the profession of these noblemen; how do they earn their daily bread. I still haven’t come to a positive result. I think they are waiting for the king who will nominate them ministers, governors, deputies… In such a way, they will regain their reputation, money and will be able to embellish their castles, support the arts. In the meantime, they spend their time hunting, drawing, playing music… I don’t know if this fills their whole life; but these few days that I have been here I noticed how one day they go to an uncle on “goûter” – tea and cakes, then they play the piano, talk about various books and works of art. The master of the house shows his pictures, drawings – hunting motifs presented with a lot of humor, and everyone says: “c’est charmant, ravissant – wonderful, marvellous.” Then they admire an old wardrobe in the Louis XVI style and a bronze pitcher and washbowl with which the king Charles X was baptized. Mr. Gastone Lemaire, a well-known French musician played on the piano “Vous dansez marquise” or some dance in Louis XVI style and with his music illustrated the 18th century court life with its delicate, powdered marquises and princesses, with all the conventional rhythmic of their dances and bows, with all the nostalgic aura of the happy ones in this world who feel best the transience of temporal joys.
These are the feelings in which the aristocracy here lives. And they are all loyal to the Catholic Church; they have a great respect for the priests and many of them receive the Communion daily. Their girls walk bare-armed, or with very, very short sleeves, dance American dances and do not feel all the contrast between their dress and the religion which they profess. In the speech and manner one can see that these girls in pagan dress have very beautiful souls.
Their upbringing is fine-tuned; they know how to respond to every word and remark, admire everything, never say anything bad of anyone, serve at the table and eat apples with knife and fork.
And all this colorful folk ride in automobiles all the time, prepare hunts to the Monseigneur from Orleans, a son altesse imperiale du Brésil – to his highness, the former emperor of Brazil, study the chronology of the house of Orleans, etc. And when the conversation steers to elections, hatred of the Republic becomes obvious, as well as despair that in Argent out of 500 votes, 200 were for the communists. Where do they get the money for their lives? I think this is income from the enormous lands which they possess. But how do they collect this income? Nothing is cultivated. Everything is in decline, withers away. On the places where once there were fountains and where hundreds of rabbits were bred and sent to Paris, today there is nothing.
And looking at all this I understand to an extent the French revolution which equated the nobility and the clergy and destroyed both. I also understand the present-day anti-clericalism of the French people which equates the rehabilitation of the Church with the rehabilitation of the social reactionaries – large estates, carefree life of the aristocracy and a deadly, hard life of the peasants and workers.
God our Lord allows revolutions in order to establish in such a way his social kingdom among the people.
The social foundations on which, it seems to me, the life of the French aristocracy rests is truly pagan. They don’t seem to notice that they are obliged ex iustitia – for the sake of justice – to use and cultivate their land, be in every way the refuge of the people which surrounds them. So many empty halls in the castle, and none serves for people’s associations; whether youth societies, or for the purpose of catechization, cooperatives and the like. And these bare-armed Catholic girls play tennis, ride in cars, go hunting, dance tango, and do not think of their comrades in the village who need help. No wonder the entire population is against the nobility and that they vote against the candidates who support the nobility and the Church! No wonder the godless assume power and expel the nuns from Alençon and Evian. Aren’t the Catholics to blame in the first place if they experience political defeats?
Castle Argent in France in which Ivan Merz stayed in September of 1924 at the invitation of the noble family De Montbel
In spite of this reactionary social spirit, I must stress that this nobility is the carrier of many positive values. This is in the first place the cult of family traditions. Every member of the family has a deep reverence towards the great-great-grandfathers and great-grandfathers, grandfather and grandmother, the great-uncles. All of them were aristocrats who played an important role in the political life of France. Many among them were keeping diaries, so that it is not difficult to imagine the period in which they lived. The male ancestors had many virtues, and the foremost among them was loyalty to the king. O, there is nothing more touching that to be alongside the king, to go to exile together with the king, looking how a king dies with dignity. And the mothers of these aristocrats were real saints. They brought up their children in an exemplary manner; they taught them drawing, literature, grammar… they took care of every smallest thing. They lived in a simple room not unlike a cell from which they almost never went out. Some mothers educated their grandchildren. So, for instance, the countess de Villeneuve tells me that her grandmother (or mother, I don’t remember precisely) studied Latin in her sixtieth year in order to be able to teach her grandson that subject. Even the current generation inherited something of the sanctity; some wear hair-cloth, others flagellate themselves.
Here there is one small lady dressed in dark grey – Miss Louise de Souliac. She has something of a nun in her: long sleeves, closed neck – a real Catholic. She was on her way of becoming a nun, but her brother was killed leaving four small children behind him, and she took it upon herself to bring them up. Everyone looks at her with awe. She managed to bring up the children; one ended the military academy in St. Cyr and recently became a lieutenant, etc. This little lady sometimes disappears, goes to Paris or somewhere else. Everybody thinks she is a nun living in the world a worldly life; a nun who took her vows and who reports on her life and everything she spends to her superiors. This is the order of Mary’s Girls founded by the Jesuits, a branch of the Society of Helpers of the Holy Souls.
Countess de Montbel also has something odd in herself: some mixture of saintliness, esthetic and social-reactionary. She receives Communion every day, plays the piano, reads various works of literature and is able to entertain a conversation on any topic. She visits the sick, honors enormously the priests and knows many “saints”. She is a revolutionary in her milieu, an opponent of Action française19 , opposes the terrorist methods of fascism, and advocates an eight-hour working day. In a debate, she takes the side of the workers, “pour le peuple qui est admirable – for the people who are admirable”, keeps correspondence with anarchists and tries to help wherever she can. Along with that, her sleeves end above the elbows, she has numerous dresses, jewelry on her chest and neck. This mixture of saintliness with the anti-Christian traditions of luxury and fashion is beyond comprehension.
In Bonnée I visited the counts de Rousseau – the lady is a German princess Isenburg from Hessen, a relative of the emperor Wilhelm. In their house, there is a chapel with the Most Holy, all grown-up girls are bare-armed and on the walls one sees the pictures from the Ancien Régime20 with women and girls having bare shoulders and visible breasts. Maybe this is one of the reasons of the tragedy of the French nation which is dying out; wherever you look, nearly everywhere you find empty hearths. There are no children. There are no workers who will cultivate the land. Nobility, which could play a major role in the renewal of France, seems to be its greatest enemy. They possess the faith in Jesus Christ, they have all the intellectual means at their disposal, but still they can do nothing because they are the slaves of the social setup, slaves of human concerns, slaves of fashion. They always seek to be on top, to be treated as an elite class by everybody, but as the present-day elite class walks bare-armed, they also adopt the customs which disorganize family life.
NOTES FROM THE SPIRITUAL EXERCISES
1 December 1924
From the spiritual exercises, which Ivan performed by the end of November and beginning of December 1924, in his Archive only the decisions which he wrote on two small sheets of paper are preserved. There is also a date. From these decisions, we see how the Spirit of God motivates him to an ever more perfect life, to attaining mastery over himself, to an ascetic and penitential life which he tried to live since his student days.
Strive for perfection in the performing of various tasks.
Execute perfectly the ordinary things.
Mortify the body so that health is “a little bit” affected.
Sincerely love everything that is harder. This makes you similar to Christ the Savior.
O, how come you are not afraid of God’s punishment in hell!
Sleep in the afternoon, get up early.
Reserve Sundays for mental meditation.
Achieve in everything the self-denial of the crucified Christ.
“Once I demanded from you more, and now I demand only this.
You see how my Heart is full of love.”
Do not laugh during Lent nor give a motive for laughter.
If possible, walk the streets without glasses.
Weep over your sins often.
Do not say unpleasant things to others.
Be in the church 15 minutes before the mass (if possible).
Speak with people as if they were kings.
Learn to serve at the altar.
SPIRITUAL PERSONAL PROFILE
Responses of Ivan Merz to the questions in a survey
In 1925 Dr. Dragutin Kniewald was preparing a religious-moral handbook for young men under the title The Catholic Pupil (in Croatian). For this purpose, he conducted a survey on religious and moral life among two hundred Croatian young men. The aim of the survey was to respond in the best possible way to the needs of a young man who strives for higher values.21 Dr. Kniewald also asked Dr. Ivan Merz, his friend, to respond to the questions in the survey. The survey was anonymous, but as Merz handed his responses to Dr. Kniewald in person, he preserved them. They were very useful to him later when composing the biography of Ivan Merz. Before his death, Dr. Kniewald donated to the Ivan Merz’s Archive Merz’s original responses to the survey, written on 34 sheets. The serial number in front of every question relates to the number of the survey sheet on many of which there were several questions. Sheet No. 8 has no answer, and sheet No. 9 is not preserved. These responses by Ivan Merz to the questions of the survey are of extraordinary value because they provide us with yet another insight into his soul. We gave to this chapter the title “Spiritual personal profile”, because here we find information we do not have from any other source. In the introductory sheet, Ivan noted that he answered “spontaneously, quickly, without a break”. This note is important, because it guarantees the authenticity of the responses which were written spontaneously, without embellishment or corrections; he wrote what was foremost on his mind as an expression of experience which was permanently present in his spirit.
1. Am I a member of any society, organization, congregation? Which one?
Which of my needs are met in this society?
– Congregation: joint prayer, lectures on spiritual topics. Eagle: Catholic social apostolate.
Do I have any complaints about this society?
2. Why did I sometimes omit Sunday Mass?
3. What was I doing during Mass (prayed, thought – about what? daydreamt, sung?)?
– Prayed the holy Mass.24
4. What do I pray in the morning and the evening?
– In the morning: I meditate 3/4 of an hour. Evening: rosary, conscience examination, preparing material for meditation for the following day.
5. What is my greatest mistake?
– Precipitatio (rashness) in prayer and work.
How did I become aware of it?
– During spiritual exercises.
6. What benefit do I derive from Confession?
– To overcome my mistakes more easily.
What is hardest for me to say in Confession?
– The sins against holy chastity.
7. How do I prepare myself for Holy Communion (From a prayer book? Which one? Without a prayer book? How?)?
– By meditating on the text of the Holy Mass, or a text from the Old or New Testament.
How many times a year do I receive Holy Communion?
10. What is spiritual life?
– Meditation on divine truths; participation in the inner life of God; in a way, becoming God.
Do I need spiritual life?
– Because without it I would cease to exist. Without it everything is hell.
11. Which books do I prefer to read?
– Philosophical (scholastic) and theological.
12. Which books were of greatest use to me until now?
– Donat: Ethica, Breviary, Missal, Old and New Testament.
What usefulness did I derive from these books?
– I got rid of the esthetic-literary view of life and started observing life as it is in reality, in the Creator’s concept.
13. Which books harmed me the most until now?
– Dostoevsky: Crime and Punishment (when I was 20).
Can you elaborate on this harm?
– I fantasized that I should be saving prostitutes, and I closely escaped serious harm.
14. What was the effect of novels which I have read so far?
– They significantly broadened my horizon (I only read works of literary value), but in terms of philosophical-theological truths in them I mostly found a void.
What was the effect of novels on my companions?
– The same as on me, because they read good novels.
15. Which pious book did I read?
– A lot of classical works from theological (ascetic) literature.
Which benefit did I derive from this?
– Only the classical works (St. Francis de Sales, Scheeben, St. Augustine) gave me solid guidelines for the spiritual life. Maybe in purgatory I will have to read, as punishment, those books which are usually called pious.
16. What magazines and newspapers do I read?
– All the Catholic ones, French and Italian.
17. How did I attend to my religious duties during the holidays?
The holy Mass on Sunday?
Confession and Communion?
Morning and evening prayer?
Parties and entertainment where I found myself?
18. Did I ever do something on account of others, that I otherwise wouldn’t do? What? Why?
– I don’t remember.
19. Why do young men love to go to the cinema so much?
What is it that they like there?
What is it that they don’t like?
Of what use is the cinema for them?
What harms them in the cinema?
20. Why do young men love to go to dances?
– In high school a pleasant, warm feeling in female company.
What do they like at the dances?
What do they dislike at the dances?
What is the usefulness of dances for them?
They learn how to behave towards ladies and girls, when they don’t have the opportunity to learn it in other places.
Is there any harm in dances for them?
Dance leads to erotic arousal at certain moments.
21. What do I think of modern dances (tango, shimmy, one-step, foxtrot etc.)?
– When I only observe the dancing of modern dances (e.g. in the Biškupović’s school), I gather that a normally developed young man must become sexually aroused. It is a fact that girls in dance schools have skirts which come up to their knees and that developed female bodies in dance, where different muscles are activated, cannot remain cold. If a young man, maybe with the time, learns to observe this play of the muscles and female bodies, and gets used to the touch of warm, soft, female flesh below the fingers when the upper part of the leg unwittingly touches the girl’s leg, if this, as I say, with time ceases to have an effect on the young man, then I hold that that is bad; because the procreation of mankind demands a certain sexual arousal in a man, not apathy. One gynecologist in Zagreb told me that modern dances have a very harmful effect on the normal development of female sexual organs.
It is my opinion that Catholics must speak out against these modern dances; because if they think that one mortal sin exposes a man to danger of missing the goal for which he is created, then, consequently, we should renounce many of the allowed things only to safeguard ourselves from such a great misfortune.
Did I ever dance them?
22. Do I have religious doubts?
23. How would I prefer the work in Catholic organizations to take place, for boys and girls separately, or jointly?
In regular meetings?
In special solemn academies?
Possibly for important reasons under certain conditions jointly.
On walks and trips?
Jointly, but escorted by the parents.
Because falling in love too early is injurious for the development of personality.
24. How would in my opinion or experience such a joint work affect:
– (for high school, retrospectively): The work in the organization: it would be paralyzed.
My outer demeanor?
I would take care of my exterior and would try to please.
My spiritual life?
It would be paralyzed.
They would fall in love.
25. Have I been in school together with girls?
In elementary school? – Yes.
In high school? – No.
At the university? – Yes.
26. How did I behave towards my female colleagues?
– University: well.
How did they behave towards me?
How did this companionship affect me?
– Indifferent from the esthetic viewpoint which leads to falling in love.
On my male companions?
– They spoke erotically about them.
On my female companions?
– Many became tomboys.
27. What is my general attitude towards young women?
What is their attitude towards me?
28. What would be a desirable attitude for me towards young women?
How would I like them to behave towards me?
29. What role in my young life does the striving for the preservation of a pure heart play?
– If there had been no special protection from God, maybe I would have been ruined; a terribly hard battle.
30. What is, in my opinion or experience, the safest means for the preservation of a pure life?
– Enthusiasm for the holy Church which is based on an understanding of the faith. Daily Holy Communion, systematic daily subjugation of the body (in food, quick rising from bed, regular physical exercise at least 10 minutes daily) and not seeking female company.
31. What is in my opinion or experience the greatest threat to a pure life?
– Fashion which exposes the breasts, short skirts with transparent stockings…
32. What influence have these exerted on my religious and moral life:
The school? – Elementary: bad (A Muslim country). – High school: bad. – University: good.
Colleagues? – None.
Teachers? – Religion teacher: disastrous. A lay Catholic saved me for eternity. Liberals: they peppered my head with so many lies, that maybe I haven’t gotten rid of all of them.
Sports? – Bicycle: brilliant. Skiing: even better. Horse: good. Ice skates: very good. Tennis: likewise. Football: When it is well organized – good. Tourism: good. (But everything must be measured.)
Societies? – good.
33. To what vocation do I intend to dedicate myself?
– High school teacher.
– Because through it one can do the most for Catholic Action.
34. Why do I love the Catholic Church and the Holy Father?
– Because in it I see a clear image of the most beloved Savior and God Jesus in all his perfections, and in the Holy Father – the Pope under the guise of a man I see my God and my Lord.
Facsimile of Ivan Merz’s response to the final, 34th question in the survey
In question 32, Ivan’s answer that his religion teacher had a disastrous effect on his religious and moral life, while a lay Catholic saved him for eternity might at first sight confuse and surprise. In high school for a certain period of time his teacher was a priest whose life was not fully in accordance with his priestly vocation. The lay Catholic who saved him for eternity and whom Ivan mentions in the survey was his teacher Dr. Ljubomir Maraković
We ought to note, however, that the answer about the “disastrous” effect of the religion teacher Ivan wrote at the time (1925) when he appreciated more than anyone else, the priestly dignity and its spiritual mission in Catholic societies.
“I was a young priest”, tells Fr. S. Flodin, SJ, “when one day I met Merz on Jurišićeva Street in Zagreb. We were not acquainted personally. I was in my priestly attire and Merz greeted me with great respect. To say that I remained impressed is too little; I was surprised, I was beside myself with admiration. Never before or later did I receive such a greeting from a Christian layman. It is apparent that Merz held priests in highest esteem.”
Dr. Marko Klarić, the first vice-postulator in the process for Ivan Merz, knew him and was his co-worker in apostolic work. He used to say to his friends: “We will never realize enough who Merz was. He wouldn’t allow a single ill-founded criticism of a priest to be said in his presence. He would then say: “Let’s not speak like that! Who will absolve us, who will give us Holy Communion!”
Dr. Milivoj Mostovac, Ivan’s close co-worker in the work with youth, gives us this event from memory: “We who worked in Catholic organizations were closely connected with the priests. With Merz, there was a friendship, but always connected with a certain respect. He always gave precedence to the priestly spiritual mission. Even to a priest who would compromise his vocation in private life, Merz would show a great respect due to his elevated service.”25
* * *
Prof. dr. DRAGUTIN KNIEWALD, PhD (1889-1979), priest, professor of theology at the Theological Faculty in Zagreb, expert in liturgy and historian of art actively participated in the organization and activities of various organizations of Catholic Action in Croatia. Together with Ivan Merz, with whom he was close friend and co-worker, he educated the Croatian youth, especially in the Eagle Organization. Along with numerous books and studies in the field of theology and liturgy which he published as a professor of theology, in 1932 he published the first biography of Ivan Merz. He also wrote two prayer books – guidelines for Catholic youth. He was the initiator of the liturgical renewal in Croatia in the 20th century. As a member of the Commission for the Liturgy in the preparation for the Second Vatican Council, his work on documented promotion of the memory of Ivan Merz helped Merz’s process of beatification.
Front covers of the religious guide and prayer book Catholic Pupil, which Dr. Dragutin Kniewald prepared for young people with the help of Bl. Ivan Merz.
NOTES FROM SPIRITUAL EXERCISES
Zagreb, 27 – 29 March 1926
From these spiritual exercises, too, which Ivan performed in the spring of 1926, precious notes have been preserved which convey to us the contents of his meditations and the steps he took for the advancement of his spiritual life and his ascent toward sanctity. In the spiritual exercises that he performed, Ivan made decisions which he later implemented and tried to put into practice in his life. This was particularly emphasized in these spiritual exercises where his decisions took a very concrete form. In addition, in these notes we find reflection of his great apostolic engagement in the Eagle Organization, as well as in the implementing of Catholic Action. Comparing these notes with those from the spiritual exercises three years prior, we can see a great advancement on the path to sanctity.
At the end of every meditation, Ivan underlined his decisions, thus wanting to emphasize their importance for his future life. Later on, he copied these decisions on four smaller sheets of paper which are preserved and kept in his Archive. This surely served him to remember them more easily and to be able to carry them in his prayer book or missal which he used daily.
Saturday, 27 March 1926 – 8 a.m.
The Lord created us to praise him. This comes first. Angels praise him without stopping, all nature praises him. We must praise him too.
Everything else is secondary. This is the aim why he created us, otherwise he wouldn’t have created us at all. This is why he is keeping us alive all the time.
Praise the Lord for the brilliance in which he is manifested in nature. Think, speak about this.
Praise him for his benevolences, the holy Church, the saints, the Most Holy Eucharist.
Motivate HOS26 that all its members might praise the Lord. HOS is for the sake of members, and not the other way around – create the preconditions so that the members may fulfil their life’s task: to praise the Lord.
Saturday, 27 March 1926 – 5 p.m.
Because sin is the greatest evil, actually the only evil, as it deprives us of the only good – God, it follows that we ought to hate sin more than anything else and fight against it with all our might. The Eagle Organization has the task to destroy sin. If we fail to achieve that its members live without mortal sin, the entire organization loses its meaning, because what is the use of gaining the whole world, if one loses the aim for which we were created. A minimum of one Confession per month, as prescribed by the Golden Book, ought to be a solemn manifestation of the fight of the eagles against this only evil, against sin.
The Eagle Organization is a great benefaction for the members because it gives them the precondition to save their soul. In order for all the members to get to know as best as they can the goal for which they were created – laudare, revereri, servire Deum27, the Eagle Organization would do the greatest possible service if it organized spiritual exercises for them. A spiritual director in a society is the proof of the limitless love of the Church toward the eternal salvation of the eagles; we ought to introduce a systematic teaching of the catechism. Therefore, in the first instance and before anything else, the Eagle Associations must pay attention to the inner, intensive work. Every member should be educated in such a manner that his every act corresponds to the three-fold aim for which he was created.
Only the personalities educated in this manner are able to act socially and apostolically, i.e. to create conditions for other people that they might realize the three-fold purpose of their lives and order their lives accordingly. An eagle who doesn’t know the threefold purpose of his life is meaningless.
Interior of the Basilica of the Heart of Jesus in Zagreb to which Ivan came to Mass daily and received the Holy Communion. Here he performed his spiritual exercises. His tomb is here today, on the right side.
Sunday, 28 March 1926 – 8 a.m.
On my death bed, I would like to know that I have always been the messenger of the Great King, i.e. in the presence of God, aware that praise, honor and service to God are the only important things, and everything else is mere vanity. Therefore, if within my self-chosen profession, I was unconcentrated, gloomy, forgetting the purpose of my work, there proceeds the following:
All the work must take place without rush, with a tempo and rhythm.
At a decided time, I ought to jump from the bed in a leap. (better to decide on getting up later than not to get up quickly).
Before meditation measure the time precisely (duration – without hurry!)
Walking along the street at a moderate tempo, eyes looking in front; my thoughts are preoccupied with the morning meditation.
In the teachers’ room, do only what is most necessary. During the rest of the time, speak with other teachers to make them develop love for Christ.
Enter the class slowly and recollected, knowing in advance which subject matter I ought to cover.
Apart from great urgency, do not eschew the examination of conscience at noon. It should last 5 minutes. Before that pray the Angelus. Pray for Drago and Biserka28
Speak with the parents with recollection; especially with Mother.
Do not hurry with individual pupils.
Evening examination of consciousness should last at least 10 minutes (Control the last note from Confession).
Sunday, 28 March 1926 – 10:15 a.m.
The youth in inter-confessional associations is exposed to danger. Sin which carries with it eternal torment passes there unnoticed. Not only that, but the youth gets the opportunity to gamble away the purpose for which it was created.
If only the bishops with all boldness warned people of this greatest danger! We are speaking of the highest good, and they were entrusted to preserve their flock from this greatest, unspeakable calamity.
The Croatian Eagle Association must draw the attention of its members to this greatest evil among the people – sin. We must all be permeated by the consciousness of this horrible evil. In order to kindle the flame of the apostolate in the souls of the eagles for the battle against sins which surround us everywhere, a program of spiritual exercises should be prepared and as of this year all spiritual directors should be obligated to hold at least partial spiritual exercises in all societies for all the members.
The essence of every apostolate must be the battle against sin. This is the main framework into which all other kinds of the apostolate fit – the religious, educational, political, economic and social.
He who battles in the lines of the Church has only one enemy – sin, everything else is indifferent and should be used for the suppression of sin and promotion of the salvation of souls.
Sunday, 28 March 1926 – 2:45 p.m.
Decision: Always get up on time to be in the church a quarter of an hour before Mass, in order to be able to complete the meditation in peace until Holy Communion. Remain in the church until the priest leaves the altar, if the Communion is being given after Mass. If not, remain in the church at least 5 minutes after the Mass. Get up at 5:45 at the latest, under the condition that I have had at least 6 hours of sleep.
Sunday, 28 March 1926 – 5 p.m.
Fighting under the command of the crucified King I must be crucified until the end of my life. Jesus’ fiancée is crucified through all the centuries; I must also participate in this glorious similarity. Life without a cross – comfortable – should be the greatest shame for me. Therefore, I must be happy and consider the state of a soldier of Jesus to be my normal state, and not protest as I did until now – difficult professional duties which obstruct private study and work.
Decision: perform my professional duties conscientiously and consider this to be the cross of my life, my daily crucifixion which brings blessing in the work for the salvation of souls in Catholic Action.
With the purpose of perseverance when faced with difficulties and bodily labors, I will abstain from judging myself but will ask the spiritual director for advice.
Monday, 29 March 1926 – 8 a.m.
The Savior in Nazareth until his 30th year carried out entirely technical work. He was a carpenter. Someone else could have done that job. He did not come to the world to be a carpenter, but nevertheless he was doing that job nearly all his life.
Instruction for me: the Savior is giving me an example that I must submit myself to purely technical work, the work which someone else could accomplish, maybe much better than me (school). Renunciation of my individuality and discharging a duty which does not correspond to my specific individuality is necessary to conquer my own will, superbiam vitae (the arrogance of life). Therefore, I must go on carrying the cross of my professional duties with joy and earn my daily bread in this manner. Let this fulfilment of the Father’s will be a pledge for a blessing in the work of Catholic Action.
Monday, 29 March 1926 – 10:15 a.m.
Among the people among whom I wish to be active, I must behave as they do. Before his public service, the Savior was baptized by John, as every other sinner. He did this to give us an example; likewise, among all the people where I want to be active, I must present myself as equal to them in all their weaknesses.
Before I go among the people, I must master three concupiscences29, especially the first one.
All new organizations must be warned that by becoming participants of Catholic Action they must be prepared for suffering, weeping, injustice. Blessed are the soldiers of Jesus because they suffer, weep, sustain injustice. The spirit of comfort and striving for purely earthly happiness is the spirit of this world.
I must often bring mother something that will make her happy. I must come when she calls me and present this as a sacrifice for her (even if I look childish).30 The altar of Our Lady!
Advice of the spiritual director: on Sundays regularly go to two masses. Dedicate myself to parents, friends (light conversation). One hour on Sunday evening reserve for adoration.
Beware of rashness.
In myself unceasingly stimulate the acts of love, towards God, Savior. In God I move like a fish in e water (This will protect me from rashness, give me peace and the ability to awaken love in others).
In my lectures, it is obvious (especially to the intellectuals) that they are really bad, unprepared. What seems to be enthusiasm is actually tension. When I give a public lecture, I must speak calmly, really prepare myself well. At least prepare myself by meditation. Not to speak off hand. If this is not fulfilled, decline the offers for lectures.
I ought not to work after dinner, except reading spiritual literature.
Go to the maid or speak to her only in dire necessity.31
Eat only a minimum of cake when there is other nourishing food available.
Before Confession take time to review my actions and thoughts and note how well I kept the above decisions.
The first sculpture of the Bl. Ivan Merz was made in 2006 by the sculptor Slaven Miličević for the parish of the Most Holy Trinity in Zagreb, in the Prečko neighborhood. A copy of this statue, thanks to the parish priest Fr. Vjekoslav Meštrić and donor Mr. Jozo Jurić, has been placed also in front of the parish church of Mary’s Assumption in Stenjevec as a sign of thanks to the Bl. Ivan Merz for the heroic act of defense of this church on 21 November 1926. On that day, a group of non-Catholics tried to occupy and desecrate this church. Having learnt of this plan, Ivan Merz organized thirty young men, members of the Eagle Catholic organization who, under his leadership, and risking to shed their blood successfully defended the church. At this place, Bl. Ivan Merz was prepared to die a martyr’s death for the defense of the Catholic faith and the holy
Parish church in Stenjevec which Ivan Merz defended in 1926
In Ivan’s Archive, another text has been preserved to which he gave the title Liber Luminum (The Book of Enlightenments). The text is very short, only one page, containing two dates. He had the intention of noting down inner spiritual enlightenments which he got during prayers, meditations or reading spiritual books. It is obvious that his numerous duties, and then his illness, prevented him from continuing to note down his inner experiences.
Began: 17 December 1927 in Zagreb
17 December – These days I derived great spiritual benefit from meditating on hell and Judgement Day, Peter’s sin, the story of the Good Shepherd, and Savior as King, especially the King of hearts. All according to St. Ignatius, in Meschler’s interpretation.
20 December – At the table (food) think mostly on the morning meditation; renew the impression in the course of the morning and behave in that spirit.
* * *
FROM THE LAST PERIOD OF LIFE
Another text without a date is also preserved in the Archive, and by its contents it belongs to this period of his life. These are in fact several decisions which he took in case his health gets better. During the entire year of 1927 Ivan was seriously ill and therefore we place this text in this period.
If I regain full health, during the coming holidays I shall:
1. Perform 8-day secluded spiritual exercises;
2. Make a recollection once a month;
3. Once a week make a trip for bodily refreshment.
D I A R Y
Zagreb, 21 January – 27 March 1928
The last Diary entries
These are the last pages of Ivan’s Diary. He wrote them in the Paris notebook in which the last previous entry was dated 4 November 1921. Since that time, until 21 January 1928 more than six years have passed during which time Ivan didn’t officially keep his Diary, apparently due to lack of time. On these few pages, he left us valuable thoughts and facts about his state of mind, spiritual life and circumstances in which he lived prior to his death, which came several months later.
Everything to the glory of the Most Holy Heart of Jesus!
Zagreb, 21 January 1928 – (31 years and 1 month)
Helps a priest friend who is in trouble
(At the beginning, Ivan gives a brief description of a case of a respectable priest, his friend, whom enemies slandered and tried to ruin his reputation. After this, Merz continues:
He suffers so much because his conscience is very refined (…). As of now, he is relying exclusively on prayer and has relinquished his fate to the little St. Therese of the Child Jesus who worked so much for the priests. Surely, he is intellectually one of the most powerful priest personalities in our country, and he was ready to give his life for the victory of the Catholic Action of the Holy See. However, he never surmised that the Lord would seek this sacrifice from him. (…) I am convinced that he is innocent and didn’t do what they are accusing him of. (…) I think one ought to stretch out to him a helping brotherly arm, wipe the tears from his face and the spittle with which he was spit on.
Zagreb, 8 February 1928 – (31 years and 2 months)
Words of compliment about Msgr. Milan Beluhan, the spiritual director of the Eagles
I am writing because I am convinced that important things are happening around me from which I clearly and factually perceive how the Lord is leading all the details of our life and work. Especially, Msgr. Beluhan32 comes across as a saint among us; he is at the service of every one, works for all, never thinking of himself. This is how I imagine a saintly parish priest. Today he detailed to me his plan to set up a Catholic insurance company with which he will be able to help many people, finance Lang’s Home and a neutral political Catholic daily paper. Bishop Akšamović33 received us very cordially and maybe the proposal of the Croatian Eagle Association (HOS) according to which our organization should remain autonomous will be accepted.
10 February 1928 – (31 years and 2 months)
Finally, a joint prayer with the parents
Today, for the first time, mom agreed that we pray the rosary together in our family. Tomorrow is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. This is her work. But for this reason, so many illnesses had to pass over me, plus this forthcoming operation of the nose to which I will have to submit myself unless Our Lady helps in other ways.
Zagreb, 13 February 1928 – (31 years and 2 months)
Suffering – the most powerful means for the sanctification and the salvation of souls
A rather great cross is upon us. I contracted a suppurating, acute inflammation of the jaw cavity. Today I had another tooth extracted. Mom is in terrible pain; however, I see that she prays rather gladly. Yesterday we made a kind of vow that when the circumstances allow it, we shall pray the rosary together. Strange: this suffering of ours seems to have produced miracles in mom who now prays with ease the rosary and other prayers. She said that today she prayed about a hundred Our Fathers and Hail Mary’s. The experimental proof how suffering is the strongest means to save and sanctify souls. Blessed are the souls who receive with gladness every pain from the hands of the Lord, and united with Jesus submit this pain for the spreading of the Church among souls and within society!
Zagreb, 14 February 1928 – (31 years and 2 months)
Spiritual experience of Fr. J. Vrbanek
Fr. Vrbanek34 was vomiting blood again. He says, when he looks at all the work which goes in vain, he desires martyrdom. He meditates on the presence of God and how God acts in every microbe and in a special way in each one of us when we suffer. (…)
Zagreb, 15 February 1928 – (31 years and 2 months)
Feels the weight of suffering and of the cross
It is easy to receive the Holy Communion every day and eat at the table with the Lord. Oh, how bitter it is when one is forced to bite and eat the hard wood of the holy Cross! Today yet another tooth was extracted.
Zagreb, 16 February 1928 – (31 years and 2 months)
More about the spiritual experience of Fr. J. Vrbanek
“How immensely I wish to suffer” – these were the words of the ill Fr. Vrbanek which he said today. He thinks that there are two currents in the Catholic camp in our country. He sees the seniors as minimalists, i.e. they want to have the minimum which makes them Catholics. He says that the spirit of St. Ignatius is always to strive towards the higher, knowing that in such a way one will achieve something at least. If the goal is set low, almost nothing will be achieved.
Zagreb, 27 March 1928 – (31 years and 3 months)
Admittance of a friend’s innocence
In the last entry of his Diary Ivan again mentions his friend, the priest N.N. with whom he commenced these last pages of his Diary and with whose predicament he sincerely sympathized and tried to help him. In the end, he tells us how the situation was resolved:
The affair of Fr. N.N. was resolved in a way that the Archbishop Bauer admitted that he is innocent. (…)
This same priest N.N. whom Ivan was assisting while in trouble and about whom he writes at the beginning of this last part of his Diary, twenty days after Ivan’s death, on 30 May 1928 wrote these sentences in his diary:
“He is gone, the man who was maybe the only one who understood me and whom I understood. He is gone and I am left alone. During his illness, especially in the last days, as well as after his death, in spite of feeble health I did a lot for him. (…) With my visits and attention, I tried to pay him back the debt with which I was indebted to him while he was giving me a helping hand, praying for me and suffering for me in my most difficult moments. He spoke little about himself, but he told me that he knelt in prayer before Our Lady for me, that I am the first after the Pope in his prayers and that he even suffered pain for my sake. (…) They said that I influenced him, that he was only my trumpet. How deadly wrong they are! He influenced me, and I told it to him while he was alive. While I was searching for the path, he already trod it with sure steps and showed it to me, pointing to Catholic Action and generally.”35
Building on the Starčević Square in Zagreb, facing the Main Railway Station where Ivan Merz lived with his parents on the second floor to the left. Inside the circle are two windows of Ivan’s room.
THE LAST VERSION OF THE RULES FOR LIVING
When he was going to the hospital for surgery on 25 April 1928, Ivan took with him four things: his big missal from which he was never separated and with the help of which he followed the Mass every day, his life decisions written by typewriter on a small card, the book of meditations by Fr. Meschler and the rosary. The decisions which he took with him are his last life decisions, i.e. the last version of his rules for living. Although they are not dated, we presume that they must have been written in 1927, during the last spiritual exercises which he made . The fact that he took these decisions with him into the hospital, on the last stop of his earthy voyage, shows us how he tried to remain faithful to the very end to his way of life, a life of complete dedication to God which he was living in the world according to the rules which he composed in cooperation with his spiritual director.
Before every prayer remember the morning meditation.
Eat as few cakes as possible, when there is other food available.
Before every prayer (adoration, meditation) determine its duration.
Do not engage in your work after dinner.
A little secret: Jesus, through Mary I want to love you more and more every day! (Or: Bouquet spirituel.)
As penitence, perform your professional duties as close to perfection as you can.
(As penitence, accept as a regular rule for living to sleep according to your needs only every second day)36
Receive Communion every day and if possible adore before the most holy Sacrament.
Unconditionally, as penitence, get up fast as if touched by electricity, always and without exception. Get up unconditionally at the time which you decided in the evening (even if you have to rest during the day due to tiredness). Never go to bed for the second time.
At every meal do some penitence for the salvation of souls.
Qui regulae vivit Deo vivit37: therefore, do not change your decisions without important reasons.
During Advent, do not give anybody reason to laugh.
Laugh only as a sign of spiritual joy.
When you use technical means for the spreading of the glory of God, be at least on the level on which the liberals are (with the same needs) when they work for earning money.
Your speech and behavior towards your neighbor must support and not destroy his contemplation.
Be as orderly as possible.
Ama nesciri et pro nihilo reputari!38
With people who are not personally guilty for not being Catholics, speak in the spirit of animae Ecclesiae and judge whether they perform what the law of nature demands of them and support what is naturally good in them.
Never complain on account of food.
Never tease, especially not mother.
Love holy silence.
When getting up in the morning, washing, walking toward the church, think of the most holy Eucharist.
Interior of Ivan’s room on Starčević Square in Zagreb in which he lived from 1922 until his death. Most of the furniture is preserved and is kept in his memorial museum.
LETTER TO DON MATE BLAŠKOVIĆ
22 April 1928
Eighteen days before death, and several days before going to the hospital, on 22 April 1928, Ivan Merz sent a letter to his friend Don Mate Blašković, a priest in Hvar, in which he writes about French literature. This was actually a response to a letter on the same topic which Don M. Blašković sent him and in which he sought advice and instruction for reading the works of French writers. Ivan Merz answered him extensively giving a critical review from the Catholic viewpoint of individual French writers and their works. It is impossible to intuit from this letter that Ivan was seriously ill and that he is preparing himself for surgery; the letter was written calmly with full dedication to the subject-matter, but by the end one feels the spirit of eternity towards which Merz was already heading and in whose light all earthly values and beauties assume a new light and become relative, i.e. they are only as valuable as they contribute to the real purpose of man’s earthly voyage. This letter presents very well the literary views of Ivan Merz and his understanding of literature at the end of his life. Although this is a text belonging to personal correspondence which will be published in the special volume of his Collected Works (in Croatian), we nevertheless chose to publish it here too, at the end of his diary texts, because this is the conclusion of his professional occupation with literature. On the other hand, with its tone, and especially the last paragraph, the letter reveals the inner state of Ivan’s soul which was at that time standing face to face with eternity into which he was to enter very soon.39
My dear father! You enumerated many names of French writers. I recommend that you acquire the following history of French literature: Parvillez-Moncarey, French literature (Beauchesne). This book gives a very good overview of literature and in addition gives the Catholic viewpoint. Without such a handbook, it will be difficult for you to orient yourself objectively, especially if you are in contact with someone who doesn’t have Catholic criteria in the judgement of art. I fear that this professor of French in Lausanne lacks not only real notions about literature, but about life itself, when she doesn’t refrain from recommending Musset’s The Lovers of Venice, as if French literature didn’t have better things to offer! I think you can read all the well-known French lyricists (Hugo, Lamartine, Vigny, Musset) to gain an insight into the direction which they represented and about their literary qualities. For this purpose, one anthology will satisfy your needs (Edit. Nelson:
Anthology of French Poetry), and it would be a waste of your time to read the entire Sully Prudhomme or all the Contemplations, Legends of the Centuries, etc. These works contain excellent parts, but as a whole all major works of Prudhomme and Hugo are missing the mark, because one of them was an atheist, and the other an arrogant and empty philosopher. I see no reason for you to read Les fausses confidences and ordinary erotic stuff, no matter how innocent this eroticism might seem. The male and female protagonists of these dramas are, objectively speaking, weaklings in whom love is not that huge, God-given impulse whose aim is the creation of future saints and to be a mark of the relationship of Christ and the Church. Musset especially was a weakling and an immoral man, full of talent, but we are helpless here because as Catholics we can enjoy esthetically only rare works by him. We can enjoy esthetically only when an idea comes to fruition in a light form. And how to bring our r e a s o n to be satisfied with these meagre ideas? I would therefore recommend to you to read and study the authors in whom the idea dominates over the exterior, works which have the vast horizon of ideas and their proclamation as its topic, and not the overly restricted world of eroticism (as if there was nothing else in the world apart from eroticism!). Among the lyrics, please read: Verlaine (all his works), Péguy, Claudel, Cardonnel. I warmly recommend Bossuet’s sermons (he is a great lyricist) and Dante. Get yourself the Illustrated Manual of Catholic Literature in France from 1870 to this day; Calvet: Renewal in Catholic Literature (Bloud) and Valléry: Anthology of Catholic Poetry. Especially in this last work you will find substantial nourishment: the great Christian poetry in which your soul will find full pleasure, a recollection in the light of the idea. Please, read in Hrvatska straža all the articles written by Califron and Mahnić about art and get yourself a book by Maritaine Art and Scholasticism. You will like this book, because it will take you to the highest peaks where the eternal, uncreated Beauty reflects itself in the created one. I think that this knowledge of Catholic teaching about Beauty, the beautiful and fine arts should accompany every Christian in judging all kinds of arts. Unfortunately, we are all today educated in such a liberal manner that we become enthusiastic about works whose level of ideas is so shallow. I think that we Catholics often go astray in this matter, not paying enough attention to ideas. Read Ghéon’s The Poor Man under the Staircase and compare it to Fausses Confidences; how much we enjoy Ghéon, where the action lifts us to heaven, into the source of all virtue, when we see that the main protagonist renounces her permitted marriage to remain faithful to her husband who, she believes, is dead. The heroism of the Christian and supernatural sacrifice which between two goods chooses the more perfect one fills us with enthusiasm, a great illumination floods the mind, and will and emotion are enveloped by this virtue and want to assimilate it within them. (!). I am deeply convinced that outside of the Church there is no full beauty and art for a Christian; the natural beauty itself, as presented by Homer and Sophocles, is a real beauty, but it cannot satisfy us, as we live surrounded by the luminance of heavenly virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit, we who have dived into the Heart of Eternal Beauty and who take our nourishment from the heavenly Blood of the Lamb. I think that the pinnacles of created beauty are in the Missal and Breviary, in the Pontifical Mass and Gregorian melodies. The notional content here is absolute – these are God’s own words, shrouded in the simplest and transparent vesture of rhythmic movements and choral melodies. This transparency is so fine that through it we stand in direct contact with eternal, supernatural ideas which enlighten our mind and effuse our will and emotions with joy. This is a real anticipation of esthetic enjoyments in heaven,anticipatio visionis beatificae.
I am convinced that you are filled with enthusiasm for great Catholic art and for liturgy, Gregorian chant, Pallestrina, Bossuet, Fra Angelico, Verlaine, Ghéon, Claudel (Annunciation to Mary), the cathedral of Chartres, Dante. Nobody can match us, Catholics, in the field of art: Hugo, Lamartine, Musset, all of them are pigmies whose tragedy lies in the fact that they were not Catholics because, if they had been, maybe something would become of them. When, God granting, we get again a Christian century, in the histories of literature their names will not stand out in bold letters as is now the case. Two or three lines about them – that is enough. I forgot to mention Baudelaire. In my opinion, his poetry is healthier than the poetry of the romantics, because he clearly distinguishes good from evil and always, in the midst of sin, is aware of the presence of God who looks upon that sin and condemns. He is sincere and in him we can hear the beating of the heart of Grace which calls him to the right path, and by that very fact, draws others to it: “Be blessed, my God, who gives us suffering as a divine remedy to our impurities!”
By all means, get yourself the autobiography of the Great St. Therese (Spanish). She is full of dynamite, just like you. However, I am sorry I wasted so many words on literature, because a more important task is to educate and lead people to Jesus and in fulfilling this task art, just like everything created, should only help us to come to Jesus. Therefore, I know that you will occupy yourself with books and art only in so far as your flock needs it, in order for you to be a good shepherd, and to take this flock and yourself one day to eternal Beauty…
Don Mate Blašković, priest from Hvar. Ivan sent him his last letter immediately before his death.
Dr. Dragutin Kniewald in his biography of Ivan Merz, commenting on this letter, among others says: “In this letter Ivan unwittingly presents how he resolved many questions which interested him in his younger days, and somewhat tortured him. These are the questions of eternal moment, because just when one generation solved them – in one way or another – there comes another whose life is challenged by these same questions. In this letter, Ivan, as an expert gives his complete view of modern French lyrics and practical advice for its study. (…) But, he was mostly interested in those works which are an artistic expression of real Catholic life, for real Catholic literature and arts, especially for liturgy, which he considered to be the greatest work of art in the world.”40
Stained glass representing Ivan Merz made by the sculptor Anto Mamuša in 2004. It is situated in the chapel of the bishop’s Chancery in Banja Luka.
1 Letter to his mother from Paris on 6 November 1921.
2 Enterprise of Cardinal Ferrari is an Italian Catholic social institution established in Milan after World War I to help the workers and poorer classes of society. Merz gave an extensive overview of the creation and activity of this institution in a separate article entitled Enterprise of Cardinal Ferrari which he published in the Catholic Gazette (in Croatian), Zagreb, 1922, No. 46, pp. 551–554. The article was published again in Vol. 2 of his Collected Works, Zagreb, 2011., pp. 55–61. Merz was considering the idea of establishing such an institution in Croatia.
3 A well-known Carthusian monastery, of a great historical, cultural, religious and artistic value in Pavia, Italy.
4 Don Luigi STURZO (1871–1959), a well-known Italian priest and politician, one of the co-founders of the party Democrazia Cristiana (Christian Democracy) (1900). In 1919 he founded a new party Partito popolare italiano which had a strong impact on Italian social life. His main idea was that Catholics should involve themselves in politics, should enter the political structures in order to apply through them the principles of the social teaching of the Church. He opposed fascism and therefore had to go to exile, which he spent in London and New York. With the permission of pope Pius XII he was nominated life-long senator in the Italian parliament due to his great scientific and social merits. In 2002 the cause for his beatification and canonization was initiated.
5 Armida BARELLI (1882–1952), a well-known Italian Catholic youth worker, national president of the Italian Catholic action for girls. She was very engaged alongside the Franciscan Fr. Agostino Gemelli in the founding of the Catholic University in Milan. The process of her beatification begun in 1970 and in 2007 a decree was issued of heroic virtues. With this, she got the title of a “honorable servant of God” and this is what she will be called until beatification.
6 This sentence-decision by Ivan is very important. It tells us that in these spiritual exercises Ivan took a final decision not to go into the monastery and become a religious, but that he remains in the world as a consecrated layman, and he perceives his serving of God as a corrective, i.e. rectifier of wrong views, and consequently wrong actions in the first place within Catholic organizations of his time. His great and successful apostolic work which he developed in the last years of his life is the realization of this vocation. He introduced into our Catholic public, especially among the engaged lay persons, through Catholic Action the correct interpretation of the lay apostolate in unity with the hierarchic Church.
7 Ivan Merz, Collected Works, 3rd Volume, Zagreb, 2011, pp. 276–277.
8 For a better understanding of the incident of the removal of this Foreword by Ivan Merz from the Golden Book, which Merz revised and prepared for printing, we refer the reader to the literature on the Croatian Catholic Movement (HKP) where the conflict which arose at the beginning of the 1920s among the active Croatian Catholics between the Seniorate, leadership of the HKP, and leadership of the Eagle organization. Of a special relevance is the article: Božidar Nagy, The Causes of Division in the Croatian Catholic Movement, published in the book: CROATIAN CATHOLIC MOVEMENT, Proceedings of the international scientific meeting, Kršćanska sadašnjost, Zagreb, 2002, pp. 639–652. (in Croatian)
9 Ivan Merz, From the History of the Croatian Eagle Movement, Katolički tjednik, Sarajevo, 1927, No. 25, pp. 8–9. (in Croatian)
10 Dragutin Kniewald, Dr. Ivan Merz – Life and Work, Zagreb, 1932, pp. 162–163. (in Croatian)
11 Ivan Merz Archive, F21, No. 6 and No.12
12 Pontifical document in which the faithful are instructed to implement something in the life and activity of the Church and its members.
13 Statutes of the Italian Catholic Action endorsed by the Holy See on 2 October 1923.
14 This speech of the pope Pius XI to organized Catholic youth Merz translated and published at the end of the Golden Book.
15 The Blessed Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, was a member of the Eagle Association and had great respect toward the Golden Book before he began his theological studies. In his letters to his fiancée he calls it “pure gold”. Merz’s desire from the concluding sentences of the Foreword was fully realized in the Blessed Cardinal Stepinac. See at length the words of the Blessed Cardinal Stepinac in Ivan Merz, Collected Works, 3rd volume, Zagreb, 2011, p. 277. (in Croatian)
16 CATHOLIC PAPER, No. 37, 11 Sept 1924, pp. 441–444; No. 38, 18 Sept 1924, pp. 460–461; No. 39, 25 Sept 1924, pp. 477–480; No. 40, 2 Oct 1924, pp. 489–491; No. 41, 9 Oct 1924, pp. 503–506. (in Croatian)
17 Christliche Volkszeitung, 1925, Osijek. – Brochure: Die neuesten Wunder in Lourdes. Tagebuch eines Laien während französischen Nationalpilgerfahrt vom 20. bis 28. VIII. 1924. – Verlag der Christlichen Volkszeitung, Osijek, 1925. (in German)
18 Ivan Merz, Sabrana djela, 2. svezak, Zagreb, 2011., str. 306–333.
19 Action française – a political, nationalist and royalist movement of the extreme right in France in the first half of the 20th century. It was condemned by the pope Pius XI in 1926.
20 Ancien régime – the old regime. A social-political and administrative system during the time of the Monarchy, before the French revolution.
21 Dr. Kniewald wrote the same handbook for girls under the title Catholic Schoolgirl.
22 Mary’s Congregation – Catholic association for the promotion of spiritual life.
23 The Eagle Catholic Organization for young people where he was among the leaders.
24 This relates to Merz’s active prayerfully following of the holy Mass from his French and Latin missal which he carried with him every day when going to the Mass in the Basilica of the Heart of Jesus in Zagreb.
25 All these three testimonies about Merz’s respect toward the priests are published in the book: B. Nagy, Warrior from the White Mountains – Ivan Merz, (in Croatian), FTI, Zagreb, 1971, pp. 276–277.
26 HOS – Croatian Eagle Association
27Latin: praise, worship and serve God.
28 Drago – Dragan Marošević, Ivan’s seriously ill friend (TB). Biserka – Biserka Brajša (Ivan’s god-daughter) from a well-known Catholic family Brajša. On the request of her parents, Ivan was her god-father at baptism.
29 Three concupiscences – passion of the body, passion of the eyes and arrogance of life
30 Ivan’s mother was gravely ill and was forced to lie in bed.
31 Due to mother’s illness Ivan’s parents had a maid by the name of Katica. After Ivan’s and mother’s death she married. As Ivan’s father remained alone, Katica, together with her husband Ivan Bajić took Ivan’s father in their care and he remained in this family until his death.
32 Msgr. Milan BELUHAN (1877–1953) was the parish priest of St. Mary’s parish in Zagreb and a general spiritual director of the Croatian Eagle Association, and later the Great Crusader Brotherhood and Sisterhood.
33 The bishop of Đakovo Antun AKŠAMOVIĆ (1875–1959) was put in charge by the Episcopal Conference for the resolution of the problem which arose within the Croatian Catholic Movement relating to the attempt to extinguish the autonomy of the Croatian Eagle Association and make it a youth branch of the political People’s Party. Merz with co-workers fought against such an option because this would harm the basic vision of the Eagle organization which was a politically independent Catholic educational organization for youth, inspired by the principles of pontifical Catholic Action.
34 Josip VRBANEK (1882–1945), SJ, a Jesuit, Merz’s spiritual director and confessor, writer of his second biography published in 1943. At that time, he was serving in the basilica of the Heart of Jesus in Zagreb.
35 The Diary of this priest N.N., Ivan’s friend, was given to the Ivan Merz’s Archive after his death where it is now kept.
36 Following the advice of his spiritual director, due to health reasons Ivan retracted somewhat from his 7th decision, so he later put it into brackets.
37 Latin: Who lives according to the rule, lives for God.
38 Latin: Love without anybody knowing about you, and that they think nought of you.
39 The original of this letter is not preserved. We copied it from the only source – Dr. D. KNIEWALD ”Dr. Ivan Merz – life and work”, Zagreb, 1932, pp. 202–204.
40 D. KNIEWALD, Dr. Ivan Merz – life and work, Zagreb, 1932, p. 204.