ELEVATION TOWARD HOLINESS A real spiritual life that Ivan was leading had its goal – ascending toward Christian perfection, toward the ideal of life that Christ the Lord had shown us. A growth in holiness includes an effort, a struggle against sin, against evil tendencies, against a deep-rooted egoism in ourselves, and the endeavors to acquire Christian virtues. Christian tradition has expressed this elevation toward holiness in three degrees: the road of purification (from sin and imperfection), the road of enlightenment (gaining virtues in a school of evangelical counsels) and the road of union (the union with God in contemplation and mysticism). We can follow Ivan closely through his diary and other pieces of writing in his elevation toward Christian perfection through all of these three mentioned roads.
How far I am from perfection! Mud, ugly mud hangs yet on me. I’ll have to work long to wash it off.
We have to pay attention to the improvement of ourselves and study Catholicism which we, unfortunately, know not a bit better than some elementary-school pupils.
A struggle for perfection and asceticism, must be our everyday bread. It opens the inner sights for us, makes us unselfish, maintains in us a fight with the evil one and gives us strengh not to give up.
Everything must promote the aspiration of a human soul for perfection.
Humility, a humble submission to the Will of God is the basis of all other virtues; the building of our inner life must be based on it.
The lives of the saints are rocky heights like the Alps, where the air is fresh and from where humankind is viewed in quite a different perspective.
Only in heavenly glory – in the Heart of Jesus – the tree of our inner life, which started to sprout on earth, will grow to its full size and its full blossom.
Only in Heaven will our soul become a perfect reflection of the most holy, eternal, divine Sun of the Trinity.
In his efforts to reach Christian perfection, Ivan was making decisions for his moral improving and he was acting according to them in his everyday life. Sometimes he called them instructions for life, sometimes a life rule, or simply decisions. Several versions of his decisions have been left to us which he made in various life periods: at the end of the war, during his studies and then in Zagreb during his mature age. These decisions are the precious evidence that Ivan worked seriously on his self-upbringing, on gaining Christian virtues by listening readily to the stimuli of God’s grace. From these several groups of decisions we quote here only a short list.
I’ll try to do God’s will and not to crave for knowledge too much.
I must not forget to master my body. To lie on a hard bed, to get up early and sometimes fast strictly.
A care for health and physical beauty is also important. A new generatin has to be healthy, cheerful and beautiful.
Never to forget God! To long all the time to be united with Him.
Every day, it is best at daybreak, to use only for meditation and prayer, if possible close to the Eucharist or at the Holy Mass. This hour has to be the source of the day.
After the war, I have to start a new, revived life in the spirit of a newly understood Catholicism.
To do gymnastics every day in whatever occasions.
To present a poor man with a surplus of my goods.
To pray to God fully at least once every day.
To go into unpleasant situations.
To go to fearful places during the darkest night, to win fear and to strengthen faith.
To gladly accept gladly humiliation in front of other people.
To be in closest contact with life.
Before each prayer to remember a morning meditation.
A small secret: Jesus, I want to love you through Mary more and more every day!
Like a penance to do my class duties as perfectly as possible.
To receive Holy Communion every day and if possible visit the Most Holy Sacrament.
Once a month, for 24 hours nothing to eat or drink.
To do some penance for the salvation of souls at each meal.
When there is enough of other food, to eat as few cakes as possible.
Never to criticize food.
To think about the Most Holy Eucharist in the morning when getting up, washing, walking to church.
Who lives according to the rules, he lives for God, therefore not to change decisions without good reasons.
LOVE – MARRIAGE – FAMILY
In his numerous pieces of writing, especially in his diary, Ivan Merz used to write about love, girls, chastity, sexuality, marriage and family. All of this reality, including also a human sexuality, Ivan tried to look upon in the light of faith and Christian principles. In a large number of the notes in his diary he wrote about a struggle and his endeavors to place energies of a sexual instinct under the control of reason and Christian moral principles. In his writings he also gave concrete directions to the young on how to preserve chastity and prepare themselves for marriage. He was attracted to the ideal of moral purity and therefore he prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary who was for him the model of woman and chastity.
When I hear people speak despicably, when ugly pictures are willing to creep in my soul too, I can always see a picture of the Madonna with the Child, that beautiful and majestic expression, that concentration of everything exalted.
I pray to the Almighty who determined the way of the Sun and stars, a direction of every stalk and a task for every ant, to show me the way to Chastity, a great art, to everything Highest and Eternal.
Several days ago I vowed chastity to the Blessed Virgin until marriage. It may last until death. (B. Luka, December 12,1915).
I feel myself that however intelligent a person may be, I wouldn’t be so impressed by him/her as by a chaste one. This proves the trueness of Christian moral principles. Chastity and eternal chastity should be a motto.
Christian politics must make an effort to get more and more Christian families in which a married couple will live in an inseparable faithfulness until death.
Pieces of advice to young men
The divine goodness is something eternally female that shines through a female being and inspires you to love God more.
A girl is a reflection of God’s perfection, and she is designed to uplift you in a complementary way. But, if she is to be really a complete help to you, you should both bring everything into your marriage and not to waste anything before, because you will miss it during your bitter days.
Seek spirituality and character first in your fiancée, which hide in themselves the eternal treasures for your children. Both of you should be intact before marriage, because only such people will be faithful in marital chastity.
Avoid the dangers of tenderness, falling too early in love and improper touches. Develop yourself so that you can give her a lot in a family, and not only ask for and receive from her.
But what to do if in this period of the development of your character a beautiful face turns your head? Then say good-bye to character upbringing, professional education and the apostolate. You will be absent-minded; you will be thinking of her all the time… Before you started living, life will already have overpowered you. And that is bad…
I do not say that falling in love is evil; on the contrary, it is a great happiness if you fall in love well, but it is a real evil if you fall in love too early, because it will block your spiritual life just at the time when Providence planned your spiritual and physical development.
A sober young man understands the negative consequences of a too early love, therefore, even at the beginning he makes a decision to reject everything that would mislead him to begin a premature association with a girl.
A Christian young man knows very well that a chaste life is not harmful to his health, but on the contrary, it gives him indescribable freshness and strength.
A Christian young man is convinced that only two women may have an outstanding position in the heart of a man of firm character: it is his mother and his future children’s mother. Therefore, he has to take good care of holy chastity in his heart as the most beautiful pearl of his youth.
And in order to preserve this pearl, he will avoid all those occasions that might make him misbehave, and these are bad conversations, nasty theatrical performances, cinema, and especially indecent dance and alcohol.
As we restrain the water of a swollen river by dams so that it flows through its bed which leads it into an electric power station from where it lights up the remote places and drives the machines of large factories by its strength, in the same way an honest young man has to bring under control the giant and raging strength of his sexual instinct by means of the dams of Christian morals and decency until he freely decides, if it is God’s will, that the sexual instinct will be in a lawful marriage a creator of life, happiness and blessing.
TOWARDS DIVINE LOVE
Ivan always looked upon an earthly love between a young man and girl and between a husband and wife in the light of the Christian faith and a model which is being realized in the relation between Christ and the Church.
In the teachings of the Church love in marriage is a picture of a connection between Christ and the soul of the Church. Christ projects through His grace His nature into man’s soul, raises it to His level, permeates it by His picture, reflects in it and loves it infinitely. Everything that passes is only one comparison.
An earthly love has a much more exalted meaning. It is a picture of love which connects Christ with His Church.
The marriage of a husband and wife is a mysterious picture of a connection of Christ with the Church.
Marital love is a picture, a premonition, and a preparation for the infinite love of God.
Like some premonition, an earthly love directs a person to a much more perfect love between Christ and the Church, which won’t make a man happy only for a certain time, imperfectly and ephemerally, but this love will be eternal and complete.
Aspirations of a human soul are too deep to be permanently satisfied with an earthly love.
The most sincere marital love is always bothered by ilnesses, worries, sufferings, and finally when death comes, it also becomes a sorrow. Then the spirit should boldly come to reason and try to satisfy the endless aspiration for love in God’s embrace.
When this life passes away and when a marital link breaks, one should unite with the Son of God for whom one was created. Then each individual soul will be engaged to the resurrected Christ.
A married man comes to the conviction that a complete, inseparable love cannot be achieved on this earth and that only the inseparable love in eternal union with God is able to satisfy a human heart.
An earthly love is only a picture of God’s love, a picture of Christ’s love toward the Holy Church and the road to God’s embrace.
There are elected souls who even here on earth are especially engaged to Christ and renounce an earthly love. Souls who make an eternal vow of chastity, begin even on earth to live a heavenly life and they are thinking only and ceaselessly about their heavenly Fiancé.
In using the word “apostolate” we name all the work and endeavors to spread the news about Jesus Christ and the Christian faith, to make people happy by His truth and love and help them enter His Kingdom. There was almost no field of human life where Ivan Merz was not present as an apostle, trying to introduce everywhere the principles of Christ’s Gospel. The main field of Ivan’s apostolate was the young people to whom he dedicated himself first as a grammar-school teacher, and then, working tirelessly in the leadership of the Association of Catholic Eagles – the Catholic organization for the young.
To create great people is the aim of the Catholic movement all over the country.
One should draw a soul toward its heavenly Fiancé, one should forget and sacrifice oneself in order that the soul of one’s friend might become a conscious participant in God’s activity on earth.
This latter-day generation is gripped by the waves of those rivers that began to flow from eternal Rome almost in 1905, when the Pope Pius X. of blessed memory, published the document about frequent and daily Holy Communion.
The young generation nurtures the enthusiastic love for our Savior who is always with them in the Holy Eucharist; here they obtain all their strength for their activities, for their apostolate.
This has something to do with the enthusiastic love of younger people for the Holy Church, Jesus’s immaculate Fianceé, and its bishops and priests.
The young have their eyes always directed toward Rome where there is the lighthouse that illuminates the whole earth with its beams.
While the older generation emphasized the love for God and nation, with the young this love for God has a more concrete form in the love for eucharistic Christ, and the love for nation they want to subject to the love for the Holy Church.
In the heathen times these three classes didn’t have civil rights: female, children’s and the working people’s class. The Mother of God, a little Jesus and St. Joseph, the divine family – isn’t it an allegory of a social revival in Christianity and liberation of woman (Mary), child (Jesus) and workman (Joseph)?!
Sects appear in a sick society and show that Christians haven’t done their duty.
People want to get to know Christianity individually and therefore we need societies where they can talk of these things quite freely and without restriction.
If we want to become the holders of a great Catholic view, then all of our Catholic organizations have to emphasize ceaselessly that a deep and intensive religious life is the only prerequisite to bringing up great individuals, who will realize their great ideas in their lives.
Literature and art are only the details in this great deed: the Kingdom of God. A plow, and a shoemaker, and a butcher, and a lawyer and a guard, all of them are the workers on this large building. It is not a question of what is being done, but how.
All walks of life are of the same value in front of God, only we have to work according to His will.
The beauty of a human endeavor is only the reflexion of the unquenchable Beauty of God, and a work of art is only the continuation, the perfecting of God’s work.
All of us are called to cooperate with God, this is the meaning of life of an individual and the whole history of mankind.
All the human activities must be done because of love, because of apostolate; in order to spread the Kingdom of God among people.
Christianity subjects each human activity to the spiritual and transcendental aim of man.
To educate and lead people to Jesus is more important than art, and in this work, art, as well as everything created, has to help people to draw closer to Jesus.
In our work the first criterion has to be the salvation of souls, the good of the Holy Church and it should be according to the good wishes of the Pope.
I know that it is difficult to suffer, but some people have a vocation for suffering. We are the body of Christ, and the roles are divided in it. Some people have to suffer to remove God’s punishment, which should fall down on the surroundings.
Catholicism won’t spread here if there are no Workers, those who pray, and Sufferers. It is the law in spreading the Kingdom of God on earth.
Our movement has created so far only the first type (a worker) and we have created in our souls the ideal of a Worker for the Catholic movement. We prayed less, and we suffered only when we had to. The last type (a sufferer) is obviously the culmination – the imitation of a complete Savior’s Sacrifice on the Cross.
As nothing happens accidentally, I think that the plan of Providence is to become aware of this mystery from His life: to suffer for others. It is true that it is easy to speak about the cross, but it is hard to bear it.
Who wants to be a true worker for God, must not work for his own benefit; a personality cult is the greatest obstacle to the numerous good results of our work.
The basis of our apostolic work and its success lies in ourselves, in our relationship to Jesus, who must live in us.
What means should we use to develop our own personalities It is a daily morning meditation, a frequent attendance at the Holy Mass and receiving the sacraments, a daily examination of one’s conscience and a daily reading of spiritual matter.
If we do this, Jesus will live in us more strongly, we’ll understand better what is the meaning of life and the economy of salvation, and we’ll comprehend with what love our Love – Jesus, loves each individual soul.
Our opponents must be aware at each moment that we love something in them, the value of what they don’t comprehend themselves, and that we are willing to help them in the least significant as well as in the most significant matters.
Charity must everywhere conduct our steps. It is completely wrong what we frequently do – we attack our opponents without distinguishing between the wrong ideas that they represent, and their immortal soul, which should be saved.
A true friendship lies only in the common belief of the same eternal truths. All the rest might be a harmony of various earthy interests, egoism – but not friendship.
Our member can have a friend only among the convinced Catholics, and if he starts associating with the opponents, he must be aware every moment that he is an apostle among them, the representative of Jesus Christ, of whom he gives his testimony.
LOVE OF ONE’S NEIGHBOR AND A HOMELAND
I love all of mankind, I love humble, unknown people who carry on their backs all the burdens of history.
The basis of every spiritual life is to do good deeds to the suffering.
A day that one dedicates to the other person is not at all a loss but a gain. The days in which we don’t do anything for others, but only for ourselves, are the days that are lost.
The cathecism reads: if one prays for oneself only, then it is because of need, but if we pray for others, then it is because of charity and this prayer is more valuable. Pray then for each other.
Catholics are obliged in front of God to love their country and work better than anybody else for the prosperity of their homeland.
If you don’t love the immortal soul of your brother, you can’t be a true patriot. For, of what use is it if you have all the treasures of the world and your soul is in mortal sin?
The most essential point for each patriot is to try to save his own soul and those of his brothers’ from mortal sin.
Only a Christian can truly love his country. Loving his country, he mostly loves what is the most valuable in it, and, without doubt, these are the human souls, and in those souls – their immortal lives.
True patriotism mustn’t stop short on this earth, but it must be looking toward eternity.
SUFFERING – ANGUISH – CROSS
Ivan was encountering suffering and pain even from his young days: this was physical suffering because of the eye sickness, then his stay on the battle-field, and also his inner suffering due to the lack of understanding for his work in his environment. He left us many notes in his diary about his anguish. However, his encounter with suffering had its positive spiritual effect and it contributed to the fact that he could deeply immerse into the mystery of Christ’s cross and comprehend the redeeming value of suffering.
Pain deeply plows a soul and documents the existence of ethics. Where there is no pain and where everything is satiated, just there the fallacies of Nietzsche and others are most clearly seen.
All history is soaked in blood, all the cultural values are the products of pain.
He who wants to understand culture, had to suffer not only spiritually, but also physically.
I am convinced that everything has its purpose, this work and my little woes. Through pain one can see everything differently and understand more deeply the bitter word: life.
Pain is a juice of life, it rules life and it is the originator of religions. Where there is no pain, we can be convinced that there is no true life.
God 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. Why be afraid then when he determines my paths! I should live and praise Him eternally and not worry about a mortal danger.
What is life? The other day a soldier was lying by the cemetery, exposed and lying like a stump, as if he hadn’t ever lived. Is then the purpose of life just pleasure, letting oneself surrender to passion? What a strange purpose when death makes everything stop.
I am grateful to God for my taking part in the war, because the war taught me a lot of things which I would never otherwise have learned. I ardently want to become free again and harmonize my life with what I learned to be right.
I can now study the problem of the cross theoretically and may God grant that I may become strong in order not to be defeated by the cross in practice.
All of Christianity is built on sacrifice. He who doesn’t know what sacrifice is, can’t understand Christianity.
Man consists of a soul and a body, therefore the human soul and body should, through sacrifice, pay homage to God, who created everything.
If the Lord wants you to suffer and not to recover, then you should surrender yourself into His hands – for the smallest bacillus can’t move without God’s presence and activity.
By means of suffering one can do more for the spread of the Kingdom of Jesus than by great works, learned essays, magnificant speeches and articles.
If Jesus has chosen you to be an apostle in suffering, I am convinced that He will also give you strength to do this apostolate well, with the assistance of your will.
Using our earthly eyes, we might not see the fruits of this suffering, but up there, in the Heart of God, we’ll notice how many souls were saved by it, how many Catholic efforts were blessed by it.
Suffering is the strongest means that saves and sanctifies souls.
Blessed are those souls that cheerfully receive from God’s hands all the pains, and united with Jesus, sacrifice them for the spread of Jesus’s Church in souls and in society.
It is easy to receive Holy Communion every day and to feast with the Lord. Oh, how bitter it is when you have to bite and eat the hard wood of the holy cross.
During the operation I was constantly thinking how nice it would be in heaven.
Well, what is it to die; after that there is the world to come. It will be so nice and cheerful there!
Having a presentiment of his death, Ivan made his testament before going to the operation. Actually, this was a draft of the inscription for his tombstone. He made it in Latin. It was at the same time the last thing Ivan wrote in his life. In a few sentences Ivan condensed all his life and his belief in the future which was promised to him by the One to whom he had believed and devoted his life. In these words there is no fear or uncertainty in front of the mystery he was facing. All his words are the source of a serene hope and trust in the eternal life and bliss promised to a believer by his Christian faith. Ivan’s testament is a wonderful conclusion of his life and a crown of his devotion. The words of his testament are now engraved on his white marble tombstone in the Basilica of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in Zagreb. Here we quote only the most significant thoughts in the English translation:
Died in the peace of the Catholic faith.
My life was Christ and death was my gain.
I am expecting the mercy of the Lord
and undivided, complete, eternal
possession of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
My soul has reached the goal for which it was created.