MORAL APOSTOLATE In his work with young people Ivan paid great attention, particularly during the last years of his life, to moral problems. He taught all that the Church, the Pope and the bishops all over the world wrote and taught about it. He wanted young Catholics to receive correct ideas as to how Christians should behave with regard to everything that modern times had brougth. He made special efforts to develop correct ideas in the young concerning love, marriage, chastity and sexuality. He even wrote about these problems; his booklet “You and She” written for more mature young men is particularly outstanding and significant. And although he was young and almost without experience in all these matters Ivan judged and spoke of them with such a mature wisdom that he became an authority in contemporary moral questions. With his writings Ivan wanted to remind Catholics to live their everyday life in accordance with their faith. Naturally, Ivan viewed all things from the standpoint of the Church and what he spoke about was nothing but the pure teaching of the Church applied to contemporary problems. Several files out of his extensive archives, in which there are a large number of texts on morality, as well as his published and unpublished works, show how much attention he paid to these problems and how much he wished young people to harmonize their lives with their faith.
Ivan was interested in and wrote about dance, parties, fashions, movies, press, economics, and social problems. He wrote about music and physical education into which he wished to introduce more spiritual and supernatural meaning. He spoke about marriage, family, the position and role of women in society; he composed an extensive work on how and in what sense a Catholic was allowed to engage himself in politics. Certainly some of Ivan’s texts should be understood within the framework of the times in which they were written, but they all represent valuable documentation of Ivan’s efforts that Christian solutions, as the Church gives them, be applied to the whole life and work of Catholics of his time. All those who followed his example and for whom Ivan’s name became a life and work program can testify to how successful he was.
MODEL AND TEACHER OF YOUNG GIRLS
Ivan’s influence on young girls, organized into the parallel organization of the Association of Croatian Girl Eagles was as powerful as his influence on men.
There are many testimonies to this fact given by young girls and women who, with their intuition, discovered in Ivan a man of God immediately, a teacher and a friend. Perhaps the most beautiful expression of this was given by Djurdjica Vitkovic in her lovely hymn “Our Great Teacher, Thank You”, published in the books “God’s Man in Croatia” and “A Friend of the Young”. Even more extensively Marica Stankovic, president of the Girl-Eagles organization wrote about him, by publishing first a series of articles called “A Knight of Women’s Honour” in the periodical “For Faith amd Homeland” on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Ivan’s death. In her later book, “The Youth of Serenity” she described the fruitful work of Catholic female youth bringing it into close connection with the example of Ivan Merz and his influence that was shining for them with the example of his chaste life.
With his activities Ivan wished, first of all, do deepen in young girls the sense of their female dignity and of their sublime vocation both for motherhood and for the apostolate, and particualarly for the life of lay persons living in the world, leading a life that is consecrated to God. Ivan left numerous writings concerning this matter. He was particularly enthusiastic about the engaging of both young men and girls in apostolic work, in co-operation with the Church, for the expanding of Christ’s Kingdom in souls. Ivan’ saintly example had such an influence on many girls, especially on Marica Stankovic, a young teacher, that she also took vows, like Ivan, of eternal chastity consecrating her life to God. She died in Zagreb in 1957.
HE WAS EVERYTHING TO ALL
Ivan’s enormous efforts for the supernatural good of his neighbours especially of the young alone tells us of his great love for others. But he could also lower this love to the quite concrete needs of everyday life. He gave 10% of his earnings to the poor. Many of them, in Vienna, Paris, and especially in Zagreb felt his kindness.In the street opposite his apartment in Zagreb, an invalid called Misko was shining the shoes of passers-by. Ivan soon became aquainted with him and became his friend. He often stopped by Misko and lead a heart conversation with him, many times inviting him to dinner in his apartment, helping him in his needs. Many times during the day Ivan would wave Misko a greeting from the window of his study, and Misko would answer by lifting his hat respectfully.
The priest Don Ante Radic remembers how he and Ivan once, riding a streetcar met a beggar who was so deformed that people were turning their eyes from him. Ivan immediately approached him, gave a generous gift and began to talk to him. He was very glad to find out that the beggar was a good Catholic and with the money people gave him he would buy the “Catholic Weekly”. Ivan gave him fatherly advice to receive Holy Communion more often and invited him to his apartment. The many people in the streetcar admired him for the converastion he had with the beggar, for it was permeated with a true love for his neighbour.
When the pilgrimage to Lourdes in which Ivan was to take part was in preparation, he invited Mira Majetic, a teacher, to go along: “Come along to see the miracle of God and a small part of heaven on earth!” But she had some problems, so she couldn’t decide whether to go or not Ivan helped her spending the whole day to remove her problems. When she said she was sorry he had lost so much time on her, he answered: “A day devoted to another person is by no means a loss but a gain. Those days during which we do nothing for others but just for ourselves are lost days.”
Sister Marija Franciska, a nun, worked for the Zagreb police, in the Department of morality as a pedagogue. Her work with young deliquents and fallen girls was very hard. Ivan helped her a great deal with his advice and understanding. With the love of a good shephard he listened to her reports and gave her moral support to endure her difficult task.
Many testimonies speak of Ivan helping young people with their studies, or with finding employment, or with intervening on their behalf especially when they came to the town. Here is just one testimony. Stjepo Androsevic from Dubrovnik tells how he met Ivan in 1918 in a mine in Maslovare. When Stjepo, as a soldier was taken ill Ivan took the necessary steps for him to be transferred to Zagreb for medical treatment, visited him frequently during his hospitalization and took care of his hospital expenses. And when Stjepo was discharged as cured, Ivan found him a job in Dubrovnik.
We could list example after example, all proving Ivan’s varied and unselfish love.But here we must mention another of Ivan’s virtues: Ivan’s Christian love for those who disapproved of his work. Ivan suffered much because of this disapproval. He never returned what he felt from others: the lack of understanding, insults, accusations and the like. He often said: “Christian love should never be damaged.” He was great in the forgiveness of insults. One he was attacked at a gathering and he could have defended himself, since he had acted according to his best convinctions, but he remained silent. He said to someone who could not hide his admiration for Ivan for such an attitude: “Whoever wants to be a foreman in the work for God, mustn’t know himself; the cult of the ‘Ego’ is the greatest obstacle to many successful works.” On another occasion, when in Ivan’s presence pople who had attacked and insulted him were discussed, he said: “We should never judge! Leave this to God, it is his business!” It is also a fact that no one of the opponents of his ideas ever blamed him for an un-christian attitude towards those who had given him pain or who had been the cause of his suffering.
A PROJECT OF A NEW CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY
Ivan had very serious plans to establish a secular institute which would gather lay people ready to work for the Church and for the expansion of Christ’s Kingdom. The notes Ivan made during his spiritual excercises in 1923 already spoke of those plans. He received more encouragement for the realization of his plans after he became acquainted with the undertaking of Cardinal Ferrari in Italy, who established a similar community. Ivan spread the idea among his associates, making them enthusiastic for this project. In this sense he particularly prepared one of his associates, Marica Stankovic.
In 1928 he intended, together with a group of his young associates, who had shown interest for this project, to organize 8-days of spiritual excercises led by Fr. P. Perica, SJ. Unfortunately, his premature death prevented him from the realization of this idea which, however, was not buried with Ivan. Marica Stankovic, encouraged by the example of Ivan’s life and by his earlier intentions, made Ivan’s dreams come at least partly true. She founded the first female secular institute in the Croatian Church called “The Community of the Associates of Christ the King.” In her letters Marica Stankovic attributes the foundation of this community explicitely to Ivan’s ideas and his influence. The Institute today gathers females who, like Ivan, consecrate their lives completely to God, and at the same time live in the world and practice various professions, and who according to their best capabilities, work for the expansion of Christ’s Kingdom.
A LITERARY MAN AND APOSTLE OF THE PEN
Already from his Grammar School days and through his student years Ivan read a large number of books, mostly of literary value. His profession also required much reading. In addition to professional literature, he read many books from the theological and spiritual field that widened his horizon and enriched his Christian views. Ivan himself wished to write literature, but the interests of Christ’s Kingdom were more important for him than the fiction he could have written; so he invested all his literary talent into the service of God.
Although Ivan’s life was short, he died before he was 32, it is astounding how much he wrote during this short period of time. Here first of all is his diary published in excerpts in Ivan’s biographies. It represents a valuable document for the knowledge of Ivan’s life and his spiritual development as well as of the circumstances in which he lived.
Ivan’s doctoral dissertation on the influence of liturgy on French literature is written in French, and numbers 385 pages.
Ivan wrote many studies, articles and six brochures which were published in local Catholic periodicals. A complete bibliography of Ivan’s works was printed in the book “Road to the Sun”, first published in 1978. Reading the titles of Ivan’s writings, one is surprised to see the wide range of his literary activity. All that Ivan published could be classified according to the following topics: literary criticism, liturgy, Catholic organizations, Catholic Action, Rome-Papacy, Lourdes, the moral apostolate, physical education, miscellaneous. A total of 149 bibliographical items! All that Ivan wrote and whatever others wrote after his death about his life and work, represents a valuable spiritual heritage, out of which ideas and inspiration for Christian life and work can be drawn, as was done by many.