In the First World War

IN THE WORLD WAR I

In February 1916 Ivan joined the Army. For eight weeks he was becoming used to military life at Lebring near Graz. From there he was taken to Graz and Slovenska Bistrica for further military training. After passing an officer’s exam he went to Seewiesen to attend a skiing course. As a cadet-aspirant in January 1917 he left with a group of soldiers, whom he had to lead for Bozen and Arsier. His mission was to take the group to the positions then to lead them back. He participated in all the battles on the Italian front, staying there till the end of the war.

How Ivan experienced the war and its horrors can ba best seen from his diary, which he succeeded in writing even on the front. However, one thing is clear: by watching “death in the eyes”, by being exposed to sufferings of all kinds, Ivan’s attitude of life had deepened. Doubts and hesitations vanished in Ivan’s encounters with suffering and death. Christian faith appeared to Ivan as the sole value that conquers all evil which he saw around and experienced. Christian faith was, from then on, to take the first place in Ivan’s soul, while the world of art remained in the background. Ivan’s great desire for holiness and Christian perfection continued to be present. Toward the end of the war Ivan wrote his father the following significant words:”I am grateful to God for participating in the war, because war taught me many things that I would not have conceived otherwise. I strongly wish to be free again and to arrange my life according to what I have realized is right.” Ivan’s entries into the diary are abundant with condemnations of the war. It cannot be seen anywhere, neither in his diary nor in his correspondence that he personally ever used arms, or that he sinned against the 5th Commandment. The war period is considered as one of the most interesting parts of his diary.

WAR DIARY

Graz, 18th March, 1916 – It is almost certain that I, too, will have to go to the front. To be sincere, I am not afraid of death, since up there is the real kingdom. Only, I have not yet accepted the thought that I will really have to go there and I am not yet conscious of leading a virtuous life. Since I have joined the Army I have lost my connections with Him. I have not been considering what it is that I could correct in myself and it is not clear to me whether I am serving a good cause… Well, I have always been against war. What I would like best is to embrace all people and make them reconcile among themselves, and now I am supposed to kill them.

Graz, 27th March, 1916 – But the greatest distress is that I have not once found the opportunity to attend Holy Mass. Nonsense! I should have tried to find the time and an opportunity could have been found. I need spiritual strength just now, I need to partake of the inexhaustable well of Love, out of the omnipotent might of the Eucharist that fills the soul with light, that is lighter than day, that turns everything into spiritual satisfaction, that calms with a feeling of something unknown and inexhaustable. I would like to go to that Well again, tremendously, supremely. O, Deus, adiuva me! (Oh, God, help me!)

Zingarella, 18th May, 1917 – The pain, suffering and the view of so many thousand distorted, dead and agonized people, undoubtedly washes off all that is passing and directly suggests to one, with tramendous energy, the signification of life. The little pain I have suffered, that first fright in front of rifle bullets and shrapnels, on the way to the brigade, have always spoken to me the Lord’s words: “Why are you afraid, don’t you believe yet?” Well, what is the use of being afraid? He, on high, already knows what will happen to me, He loves me immensely and knows whether it is better for me to be killed or to go on living. What is the use of being frightened, when He decides about my roads! One must live and praise Him constatnly, and not be anxious because of mortal danger. What is life? The other day a soldier was lying by the cemetery, exposed, lying like a stump as if he hadn’t ever lived. Is then the purpose of life just pleasure, let oneself go in passion? What a strange purpose when death makes everything stop. Why is there such a great desire in me for my own improvement, for getting closer to the Greatest, why is a supernatural force always telling me: fast, don’t eat too much, be a perfect man?!

Monte Rasta, 5th October, 1917 – My desires are chasing me, struggle and unsteadiness are undermining me. When will the time come at last when there is no longer anything disgusting, any nights and any sin whatsoever? When will the time of eternal glory, eternal redemption come? When will we see the Resurrected Lamb and the splendour of His enernally beautiful Mother that is spread across all worlds? When, when will we be united in singing with all the heavenly choirs, when will we be able to lose ourselves in the constant singing of Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, wrapped in God’s radiance?

Fonzaso, 5th February, 1918 – Never forget God! Aspire ceaselessly for uniting with Him. Every day –dawn is the best time – use only for meditation and prayer, if possible, near the Eucharist or at Holy mass. That hour has to be the spring of the day, during that hour one must forget the whole world, one must ignore all earthly problems, all nervousness of life, and be calm as if in a cradle. During that hour plans for the coming day must be created, one’s own mistakes thought over and grace asked to conquer all weakness. It would be horrible if this war had no spiritual benefit for me! I must not live the same way I lived before the war. I must begin a new, re-born life in the spirit of my newly conceived Catholicism. Let the Lord alone help me, because man by himself is incapable of anything.

Vienna, 9th April, 1918 – And what will I be? This is a difficult question, and it has been torturing me for a long time. I am interested in literature, although I no longer enjoy it to such a great extent… We are only provisionally present in this world… In a moment, we are no longer here and this life makes sense only if it is a preparation for the next one. This is how it is with the lives of nations and mankind… It is true that literature is not everything. Literature, art are only details in the great work: in the Kingdom of God. All professions are of the same value in front of God, if only they are performed according to His will… My purpose must be to be a practical Catholic…My God, enlighten me so that I could reach a firm decision soon! Your will be carried out everywhere, for we are mere travellers here, and whether I was a professor or a bricklayer will not be much asked in our true homeland. But one must be something!

Fontanel, 20th May, 1918 – The medics have carried away from under the window our cook, with blood all over him, He was covered with a blanket. His face was red, red, red – blood, blood, blood, his features could not even be recognized… Mysterium vitae – a man covered with blood. Millions of people since Adam have suffered this and still suffer until the last judgement.

Fontana Secca, 28th May, 1918 – Let the Queen of May forgive me for thinking of her so rarely. God, God, give me more of the mystic world!

Solarol, in the cave, 13th July, 1918 – I saw a priest the other day. I rather wished I could kiss the hands that had been holding Christ… Oh, God, I wish I were with You already! The best thing would be if you would, with the flames of your Mercy, burn down the parasites of sin that have creeped into my soul, so that I could enter into You as good and holy, or at least that I would be inspired with sacred joy and a superhuman will in this life. It is easy to write this way, but it is hard to live a sacred life!