Arrival in Zagreb – spiritual life

A FLAME FOR ENDLESS HEIGHTS The war was over. Ivan continued his studies in Vienna. His parents finally gave their consent and Ivan could study what he had wished for a long time: literature, Roman and German languages. His diary of this period shows no further traces of spiritual conflicts and crises. The war had a positive effect on the development of Ivan’s personality. Ivan was now firmly convinced in the truthfulness of faith and his soul was now ascending to God’s heights more and more. His interest for liturgy began during this period, after he had taken part in liturgical spiritual excercises. He also joined the Croatian Catholic students, members of the association called “Croatia”. He became one of the most active members, performing the duties of secretary. He himself gave lectures and talked with his colleagues about the best way for the preparation of apostolic work later in their home country. During one of the meetings he pronounced the well known words: “The base of our life must be our revival in Christ, all the rest will follow in line by itself.” In the meantime Ivan’s parents moved to Zagreb.

DIARY – ZAGREB, VIENNA

Zagreb, 26th September, 1919 – Yesterday was the most remarkable day in my life. I received the ninth Holy Communion in honour of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and I believe that I will be looking into the depths of the Holy Trinity.I must at least somehow earn this immense love of Christ’s, so with the help of God I will see that I continue the work of my consecration as strong as possible.

Vienna, 5th April, 1920 – I have been staying at St. Gabriel near Mödling from Ash Wednesday till today. It was my nicest Easter: I experienced the artistic reflection of the great events – Christ’s suffering and His resurrection – and felt deeply the art of liturgy. At first we fasted and meditated in silnce. When the noise of the world had dispersed and the soul stayed still, alone in itself, out of the depth of the mud of sin that had almost unconsciously collected there, started to raise like foam… Just as theology is a central science, liturgy is a central art. Liturgy is the expression of the spirit of the Church. In liturgy Christ’s life is reflected as in a mirror, not as it seems to be in history but as an objective viewer sees it, a viewer who is not limited by time or space but who regards life from high above, seeing a supernatural association of all events. Liturgy is the greatest work of art that exsists in the world, and in addition it is a central art since it presents the life of Christ who is the center of history… The monastery of St. Gabriel will remain unforgettable during my whole life.

Vienna, 1st May, 1920 – I am most productive spiritually when I overcome resistance or when I suffer. I have so far suffered and overcome resistance (war, hunger) because Providence put me into that situation. I suffered gladly then. But I have not yet mounted to such heights as to choose voluntarily the more perfect road: the road of suffering. I have mounted to a certain height and now the force of persistence is keeping me there. However, there is a flame in me for the endless heights, an ardor for the untroubled embrace of the Son and the Father and the Spirit, and this can only be achieved by discipline, by defeating one’s own self.

Zagreb, 14th October, 1920 – I would, perhaps, never again stand financially so well in my life. Everything is going according to my wishes. I can take a shower every night, lie on the clean floor, get up at 5 o’clock in the morning, attend Holy Mass and receive the Holy Eucharist frequently. There is enough food, never meat, my clothes not ragged, my collar always clean. The family therefore gives one the most powerful means to enable one to be spiritually strong. I can now study theoretically the problem of the cross; and God help me to create such a strong base now that I do not succumb to the cross in practice.

IN PARIS

With the help of Fr. M. Vanino, SJ, a scholarship was granted to Ivan from France and in the fall of 1920 Ivan, together with two of his colleagues left for Paris where he pursued his studies at the Sorbonne and at the Catholic Institute for two years. Besides studies, Ivan collected material for the dissertation of his Phd which he would receive later in Zagreb. He took an active interest in Catholic life in France, keeping in contact with many Catholic intellectuals and converts. His two-year stay in Paris was a great cultural and spiritual enrichment for Ivan.

In Paris, Ivan lead a very deep religious life which could not stay hidden. Everyone around him noticed it, his friends as well as his landlord. They admired him on the one hand while they could not yet comprehend him on the other. Upon arrival in Paris Ivan enrolled himself and his friends into the Charitable Organisation of St Vincent de Paul. He looked after a poor family in one of the suburbs of Paris. His famous Paris Decisions dated from this time, showing how seriously Ivan took God’s call to Christian holiness. Some of these decisions are presented in a separate chapter.

The diary Ivan wrote during this Paris period is not extensive. He just put down, only now and then what particularly impressed him. Suffering followed him: his sick eyes were threatened with blindness. In spite of this, Ivan succeeded in finishing his studies. Ivan liked to visit the chapel of the Benedictine convent in Monsieur Street, the spiritual center of Paris, frequently visited by many French intellectuals, many of whom even converted there. Once he attended the formal entering of a Benedictine novice into the convent. The ceremony impressed him very much and he described it beautifully in his diary.

Ivan’s parents found out about his intense religious life and were not pleased. Thus a very interesting correspondence, already published in Ivan’s biographies, between Ivan and his mother developed. His mother wanted her son to live just like others, and in his letters Ivan explained in detail and justified his views, even wanting to encourage his parents to deepen their religious life. He warned them that life was short, that it was only a preparation for eternity and that accordingly, we have to do our best in preparing ourselves for eternal life. Among other things he sent his mother the following well known statement: “You know that university life in Vienna, the war, my studies and finally Lourdes have convinced me completely of the truthfulness of the Catholic faith and that my whole life, therefore, evolves around Christ the Lord.” In another letter Ivan wrote: “Chatolic faith is my life vocation and it must be the same for each man, with no exceptions.”Only after Ivan’s death Ivan’s parents realized fully what he had tried to make them during his lifetime: to become practical Catholic.

DIARY – PARIS

20th January 1921 – on 12th January, for his 25th wedding anniversary my father received Holy Communion for the first time in 20 years. My prayers to the Heart of Jesus have been granted. The letter he wrote to me shows a typical example of conversion. A supernatural element has converted him: Grace. Mother is still to be worried about. Heart of Jesus, help!

St. George’s Day, 1921 – My pain is still lasting, that is why I have not written lately. Thank Jesus Christ that I could, during the recent lent dive into the sea of pain of His Heart and that I could live in such a close connection with Him. During the same period I translated Paul Claudel’s Way of the Cross. Due to the sickness of my eyes I have not been able to dedicate myself to the study of Catholic literature as much as I wished… Heart of Jesus, to you I dedicate my life; it is to your glory that I should suffer and thus come to you, be your will done and I pray my parents be by my side, too, in your Kingdom.

4th November 1921 – I attended the ceremony of the formal entry of novices into the Benedictine order. The liturgy was majestic. Impression: It was as if the girl was walking to death by the guillotine. She was dying for the world, becoming a cord that is to sing forever of the glory of God. She will burn out like fire and enter, like a wise virgin with her lamp lit, into the marital chambers of the Groom.

One should forget about the whole world and concentrate on work for Jesus. Forget friends, plans, all – disappear from the earth, burn out so that one would truly enter, with as many of one’s neighbours as possible, into the place where the Father, the Son, the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Holy Spirit, the apostoles, martyrs, angels, virgins, Thomas, Mahnic, Rogulja – all those endless worlds of the Apocalypse await us.

The young Benedictine nun entered into prison never to leave it. She had passed the first threshold of death leading to heaven. A general’s daughter was leaving this world, dressed in white as a bride. Fasting, meals taken on foot, getting up in the dark of the night, in a cold room – taking upon herself the cross – in order to save the heathen Babylon, thousands of prostitutes and libertines. God, you are great, pouring supernatural power into tiny souls… Yes, the seed must be thrown into the earth to die there if it wants to produce fruit. Queen of Virgins, pour the oil of holiness into her soul and body: let the frangrance of sacrifice that is burning out fill the earth with its steam!

What was she thinking as she was passing the doorstep of the convent today? That the true preparation for the next life would, in fact, start now… She will have to keep herself alert by all means, always ready for the arrival of the Groom. This life must become for her so disagreeable that she would wish to cross the second doorstep leading to the Convent of Heaven soon.

My God, let the heathenism in which we are living disappear!

With this beautiful description, which had to be shortened, ends Ivan’s Paris diary. He did not put down the name of the nun, most probably he didn’t know it; neither did he make any effort later to find it out. It was a great surprise for Ivan’s friends and admirers when during the summer of 1979 we found this same nun alive in a Benedictine convent near Paris after 58 years fidelity to her monastic vocation, just as Ivan had forseen it to be on the day of her acceptance. The sister’s name is Marie Denise Chevillotte and she was 78 years old then. A detailed description of this unexpected and touching discovery for the Sister as well as for Ivan’s admirers is given in the official Paper of the Postulation “Ivan Merz”, no. 1-2, 1979/80.