Saints often distinguish themselves in dramatic ways: unparalleled
holiness, profound spiritual writings, extraordinary leadership,
remarkable forms of service, heroic martyrdom. But not always.
Take St. Isidore the Farmer, a simple, uneducated peasant, a man
of the earth whose life was rooted in the ordinary. A man who lived and died a
hired hand, he planted, plowed and prayed his way to sanctity. He spent his
days in the fields working for a wealthy landowner. Isidore and his wife, Maria
de la Cabeza (also a canonized saint, whose feast is September 9), devoted
their energies to good works, especially following the death of their young
son. The young couple had little, but they shared it with those who had less.
From Dreams to Reality
Born in Madrid, Spain, in 1070, Isidore was named after the
famous bishop of Seville, who lived 500 years earlier. While the young boy’s
parents had high hopes for their son, it soon became clear they lacked the
financial resources to realize their dreams.
From an early age Isidore labored from sunup to sundown on the
estate of Juan de Vergas. The work was physically wearing and often tedious,
but Isidore always gave his employer an honest day’s work.
He began each day by attending Mass at dawn, and continued to
talk to God in prayer during the quiet hours in the field. His fellow workers
couldn’t help but notice—and feel resentment. Some complained that he was
cheating his employer.
In response, Señor Vergas secretly observed Isidore at work one
day. What he saw was not an unproductive worker but a man dutifully at the
plow, assisted by angels at his right and his left!
That’s only one of the miracles attributed to the quiet, humble
Isidore. Others have him bringing a group of poor people—unannounced—to a
parish feast, where the unexpected guests were miraculously fed. Another has
him providing water to parched fields. He also reportedly found miraculous ways
to feed hungry animals.
Isidore died as he lived, quietly, in 1130.
Head of the Class
Today, almost 900 years after his death, Isidore is the
patron of peasants, farmers and field workers. His feast day is marked around
the globe—from the United States to Mexico to the Philippines and beyond—with
processions, parades, music and the blessing of crops. The city of his birth sponsors
a weeklong celebration that even includes bullfights. The National Catholic
Rural Life Conference also claims him as its patron.
We needn’t own a family farm or spend our days in the fields to
feel a sense of solidarity with Isidore. However we labor—at a factory, in an
office, behind the wheel of a truck, at home or on the land—Isidore reminds us
of the dignity of our work, of all work. He also reminds us of our call to
share our treasure and time with the poor. Perhaps most of all, Isidore tells
us that the most ordinary life can lead to holiness.
When Isidore was canonized in 1622, he shared the moment with four others—Ignatius
Loyola, Teresa of Avila, Francis Xavier and Philip Neri. It’s
a stellar class by anyone’s standards. Even if he comes in
dead last in the name-recognition category, all evidence tells
us that St. Isidore the Farmer wouldn’t mind a bit.
Next month: St. Germaine Cousin (1579-1602)