Ivan’s grave in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Zagreb
During the days following Ivan’s death many commemorative articles were published in the Catholic press pointing out the greatness of the figure of Dr.Merz, his virtues, giving him credit for his unselfish work for God’s affairs
Since then, for each anniversary of Ivan’s death commemorative meetings have been organized and are always attended by numerous young people. Articles and studies always with renewed freshness evoke the memories of this great man. Ivan’s first biography appeared four years after his death and was written by his close friend and associate, a priest and university professor, Dr. Kniewald. The book was a real happening in the local Catholic society. It was only then that the public became aware of the greatness of Ivan Merz, with his heroic virtues and his fruitful work in the Church. Numerous quotations drawing a picture of the gigantic ascent of Ivan’s soul towards God’s heights, towards the peak of holiness, practically conquered both the young and the mature. Many people stated that Ivan’s influence was more powerful after his death than during his lifetime. And truly, the name of Ivan Merz became an ideal, and his life an inspiration to many young people who followed his example of fidelity to Christ and love for the Church and the pope.
The tenth anniversary of Ivan’s death was solemnly celebrated in all cities of Croatia where Catholic youth had been inspired by his saintly life. Again, numerous articles filled the columns of the Catholic press. The whole 5th edition of the periodical “Life” in 1938 was dedicated to Merz and was later published as a separate book under the title “God’s Man in Croatia”. The magnificent festivity held for the 10th anniversary of Ivan’s death testified best of what Ivan was for the local Catholic public. On the solemnly decorated stage there was the following inscription: “Merz’s Heritage”. Ivan’s picture was placed in the middle of the stage and from each side of the picture in large letters were the statistics of the acts credited to Ivan, his inspiration and his work, continued by his followers. These statistics concerned only the male branch of Ivan’s young friends. The number pertaining to female youth was approximately equal. The statistics were given for the period between the years 1923 till 1937 and they read as follows: 30 priestly vocations; 782 societies; 26.689 members; 60 jamborrees; 429 courses; 1.137 visits to societies; 1.606 shows; 7.293 spiritual meetings; 18.892 board meetings; 46.256 lectures; 82.611 meetings.
Ivan’s spiritual leader published the book called “Christ’s Knight Ivan Merz” for the 15th anniversary of Ivan’s death. Already during his lifetime Ivan had a reputation of a saint. After his death this reputation spread even more. For Ivan’s 15th anniversary the first words that he should be declared “Blessed” are heard, and the first articles were published requesting that proceedings for this purpose be started. The purpose of this biography by Fr. Vrbanek was to give preparatory material for the opening of such proceedings.
When people started to pray for Ivan’s intercession and their prayers were miraculously granted, the voice of his sanctity spread even further. One of the most miraculous cases of prayers granted happened two years after Ivan’s death. A girl named Anica Ercegovic of Sunja aged 19, was suffering with TB of lugns, inflamation of the joints, grave rheumatism on the whole body and of a serious heart trouble. She received treatment for 6 years without any success. Physicians and medications could not help her. In 1930 she started a novena for the intercession of Ivan Merz, visited his grave and returned home completely healed! Anica lived long after in perfect health, although she was working hard on the land and in her home, she never again became ill, and no trace of the sickness she suffered from ever returned! Many other prayers were granted which are described elsewhere, particularly in the periodical “The Voice of the Postulation.”
Reviewing the Catholic publications from the year of Ivan’s death on we are surprised to see the great number of various epithets Ivan was given in the titles and texts of articles and studies on him. These epithets clearly show what Ivan meant for his time and what it was that so many people found and valued in him. Here are only some of the more significant epithets, quoted in chronological order:
And, at the end, we cannot help but mention the beautiful inscription on the white silk ribbon on the wreath the youth from Vinkovci placed on his grave: “THANK YOU, GOD’S EAGLE, FOR SHOWING US THE WAY TO THE SUN!” This inscription expresses the grateful feelings of so many young and adult people who found in him a friend, model, ideal, leader, and who found a way to Christ through his example.
After the Council a comparison between Ivan Merz’s ideas and his achievements and the Council’s decisions and requirements of the contemporary Church could frequently be heard and read. The then Archbishop of Zagreb, Franjo Kuharic pointed this out quite clearly at the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Ivan’s death, emphasizing that Merz had already achieved, in fact what the Council wished to be achieved, i.e. an authentic, generous living of the Gospel. Bishop A. Pichler from Ivan’s home town, Banja Luka, expressed it in a similar way while leading a concelebrated Holy Mass at the Zagreb Cathedral for the anniversary of Ivan’s death on May 10, 1974:
“While I was reading his biography again the other day, something surprised me. I discovered as a fact that Merz was just the type of man the Second Vatican Council requires. Among the Council’s documents there is a decree on the lay apostolate. Ivan was a layman. The Second Dogmatic Constitution of the Church speaks about the same subject. Here a completely new teaching has been presented about faithful laymen. And I realized that Ivan Merz is an unusually contemporary man. Only when the world comes to understand well the decrees of the Second Vatican Council will Dr. Merz become well known and even more modern.”
In the dissertation of his PhD, Dr. Marin Skarica dedicated a whole chapter to the contemporariness of Ivan Merz regarding liturgy. Many of the ideas the Council discussed and adopted were those Ivan Merz had already propagated and practiced some 40 years ago. We have seen, although only in short, how high Ivan valued and how well he understood its importance for spiritual life of Christians. In the same way he made great efforts so that people would understand that the priest prays when celebrating Holy Mass and that they would take an active part in the Mass. After the Council these ideas became public and we know how much the Church has been trying to carry out the liturgical renewal Ivan carried out a long time ago.
Towards the end of one of Ivan’s biographies, “Fighter from the White Mountains”, there is a whole chapter entitled “Up-to-Date Even After the Second Vatican Council”. In this chapter many texts from the Council are given and the requirements of the Council are compared to what Ivan Merz represented and did. Without entering into too much detail let us just emphasize that from the point of view of the Council Ivan’s greatest significance is in his pioneer efforts for an authentic lay apostolate. The work Ivan was engaged in and what he achieved is just what the Council today requests every layman to do for the expansion of Christ’s Kingdom. Ivan’s insurpassable example is shining for us in this field.
The then Archbishop of Zagreb, Franjo Kuharić during his sermon in the Zagreb Cathedral at the end of the Symposium held on Ivan Merz
The then Archbishop of Zagreb, Franjo Kuharić, several times spoke to the public about Ivan Merz. We present here only a few experts of his speeches.
FROM THE HOMILY AT THE END OF THE SYMPOSIUM HELD IN THE ZAGREB CATHEDRAL
NOVEMBER 25, 1978
“God is visible in God’s men because without God God’s men cannot be understood; we can understand them only on the mystery of God who lives in them. Thus, the road of young Ivan to the peak of holiness is the road of God’s mercy in his soul. Merz is a shining example also to contemporary intellectuals and to the young who wish to be people of the Church. With his life he instructs today’s generation on how a person with faith can consecrate himself, society and the Church. In him the holiness of the Church was truly alive. He was a man of the Church with all his heart, all his soul and all his love. Merz understood the mystery of the Church. That is why he loved the Church as he loved Christ. He knew that the whole mystery of the life of the Church is Jesus Christ who continuously dwells in it and with his Spirit he educates, leads, collects and guards it. Merz knew that there was no apostolate outside the Church, especially not without the Church, even less against the Church. An organism cannot be built and pulled down at the same time.
Therefore, there are definite criteria according to which it can be judged whether we are with the Church, whether the Church is consecrated by us. Ivan stood for devotion to the Church’s teachings, the Pope, and bishops without compromise. The mentality that always wishes to avoid true obedience with all kinds of reasons, often even with sophisms, was present also in Merz’s times, even in the Church. Merz realized that the Church could not be renewed, that it could not penetrate into the world with its holiness unless it was united, unless it stood with Peter, unless it obeyed Peter.
Ivan’s energy to live came from the Eucharist; he was an adorer. As a man of great apostolic activity he had sufficient time to be in deep prayer in front of the tabernacle every day. He believed in the truth which makes the Church live: that Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist. The Mass made Ivan live. Just like he entered into the supernatural divine mystery of the Church, so the same way he entered into the mystery of the Mass. As such a person Merz could not bypass the one who also gathers the Church with her motherhood: the Mother of our Lord. Out of such sources grew a chaste Merz who mastered his body with his strong spirit whose strehght was the Holy Spirit and the Merz of the unlimited apostolate who wanted to share his faith, joy and love with all his brothers. A marvellous young believer, a recruiter for God, a man who loved people and who had grown out of the power of God.”
FROM THE SPEECH AT THE FORMAL ACADEMY IN ZAGREB, SEMINARY, NOVEMBER 26, 1978
“Surely there are people also among the young who are fond of mountains. As I mentioned yesterday in the Cathedral that the discovery of Merz’s soul is like an entrance into a chain of beautiful mountains, in this same way I would now call for as many mountaineers in spirit as possible to strive towards the peak. Ivan Merz is brilliant in this line of great, loyal sons and daughters of the Church in the Croatian nation like a glowing peak. And just like brave mountaineers climb the peaks, I wish that the discovery of Ivan Merz would awaken in the young souls of this generation and circumstances the longing to climb, to go to the heights and to feel how wonderful it is to view the wide horizons of God’s reality from these heights, and that they feel how clear the air is at these heights, and that they always aspire to them.
Ivan Merz has a lot to say today to our young, to those in seminaries, theologians, member of religious orders, to us, priests and bishops. Truly this dear Eagle of ours was an apostle for a very short time, only for six years, but he introduced many things, he did much, he inspired many people, because he himself was burning with the love of the Holy Spirit. This love in him burnt in him into an openness of the spirit to accept Jesus as King of his heart and to enter into His Kingdom. I am deeply impressed by Ivan’s youth, and the fact that such a soul could mature in such a short time. When one reads his thoughts dating from his young days, one can see a deep and mature thinker who could think about eternal values in his own time, and regard the world, people and history in the light of this eternal perspective.
When we read the documents of the Council, especially the ones on the lay apostolate, and the Constitution of the Church, somehow we feel that all this had already existed in Ivan Merz; that he had realized what the Council later wished could be realized, and that is: an authentic, generous living of the Gospel; a following of Jesus Christ; a belief in the Church and its mystery in which the inexhaustible wells of salvation are ceaselessly open. And if we had more such geniuses of the spirit in the present moment, we would have a more peaceful hope for the future of our Church and our nation.
Whe believe that the soul of Ivan Merz, permeated by grace, enjoys the happiness of the eternal Kingdom of Jesus. Let him pray for us to live also by the inspiration by which he lived in love for Jesus Christ the King, in love for the Eucharist, in love for the Church, in love for the Pope and those whom the Holy Spirit entrusted with leadership in the Church, with directing it on the roads of salvation, in love for the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, in love for chastity, and for innocence of heart. Let us be enthusiastic for the same ideals, seeing the example of this model of chastity of the young, the eternally young figure of Ivan Merz. For, those who belong to God remain young forever. This is youth; this is progress; this is future and this is eternity!”
FROM THE HOMILY HELD AT THE MEETING OF IVAN MERZ’S ADMIRERS, ON THE EVE OF THE ANNIVERSARY OF HIS BIRTDAY,
ZAGREB, DECEMBER 15, 1979
Wherever there is one who has been baptized, the Church is there. Christ’s activity is there. He lives there, he loves there, he gives light there. And this came to life so wonderfully in Ivan Merz. Ivan Merz was introduced into the mystery of the Church by the Holy Spirit; he was conscious of being a sacramental sign, of the necessity of God’s Kingdom to happen in him, of the need that God’s Kingdom be poured into the world through him. Ivan Merz is a masterpiece of the Holy Spirit.
This meeting inspired by Ivan Merz, gathered together people who wish to do something, who wish something of God’s to happen, and that great things happen also in our nation, in our city, and in our Church. Here is the light of the Holy Spirit. Here is encouragement from Him and we must be very careful with this encouragement for fear of putting out the Spirit.
Ivan Merz’s most active activity was his prayer. He was active in this field when he was kneeling in front of the Most Holy in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for hours. And everything else that was happening, his footsteps, his speeches, his meetings, his zeal which won souls for Jesus Christ, all this sprang out of the basic standpoint of his soul in which the soul was the strongest: this was prayer.
The Mass made Ivan Merz live. He simply sank into this endless ocean of love and came out of it fresh again, strong, enthusiastic. Here is the kind of faith we need today.
There are signs both in the sky and on earth. Pope John Paul II is such a sign in the world. What did the Pope mean for Ivan Merz? He was the living figure of a person representing Jesus Christ. Christ is speaking through him. Christ gathers the Church together through him, that all be one. Christ shows the way through him. Therefore devotion to the Pope! A connection with and attachment to Peter’s heir were with Ivan Merz questions of spirituality. Ivan carried within himself the whole Church and wherever he went, whenever he spoke, whatever he prayed, he made the presence of the whole Church felt. Therefore let this meditation encourage us also for as many persons as possible to follow truly this faith, this inspiration.
FROM THE GREETING SPEECH IN FRONT OF THE HOLY FATHER, ROME, APRIL 30, 1979
In the greeting speech with which the then Archbishop greeted the Holy Father in Saint Peter’s Basilica on April 30, 1979 on the occasion of the pilgrimage of Croats in Branimir’s Anniversary Year, he mentioned, among other candidates for the altar our Ivan as well with the following words:
“We wish to offer thanks for the declared and undeclared saints and blessed, who are the riches of our spiritual heritage. We have also in this twentieth century, a whole line of candidates for the altar: … blessed Leopold Mandic… Bishop Josip Lang… Vendelin Vosnjak, a burning apostle of fidelity to Christ’s Deputy in the world, young professor Ivan Merz; we have a group of young people from Zagreb here who take particular inspiration out of his example… A great witness of faith, Archbishop of Zagreb and Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac… Fr. Ante Antic… Mother Claudia, an Ursuline,… Petar Barbaric.”