Bishop's Column

St. Isidore the Farmer and Divine Providence

All of us are dependent on the Providence of God.  Our very lives are a gift of God and our livelihoods are a share in his abundant generosity.  We live and breathe by God’s love.  We are all reliant on his loving care.

Farmers and those who work the land tend to remember this more easily than most.  Farmers, after all, must wait, and hope, and pray each year for the right amount of rainfall at the right time.  They must hope it is neither too cool nor too hot, that their work will be protected from blight and famine and pests.  Today farming has becoming increasingly protected by new technologies and seed developments.  But farmers know that every seed planted in the ground is dependent upon the Providence of God.
Saint Isidore the Farmer was a Spanish farmhand who worked the land of a wealthy landowner outside Madrid.  He married a beautiful woman and together they had one son.  Isidore was a hard worker and became the manager of a large Spanish farm.
This week, on May 15, we celebrate his memorial.  And in the Diocese of Lincoln, we should ask for his intercession.

Isidore became a saint because he devoted his life to hard, honest labor, and to friendship with Jesus Christ.  Before he began each day afield, he went to Holy Mass.  He prayed in the fields, at the mill, and in his home.  As Isidore grew closer to Jesus Christ in friendship, he became a protector of the poor.  He brought poor laborers to his home, and his wife fed them.  Even when food seemed on the verge of running out, God provided enough to feed the souls Isidore brought him.

Men plowed behind oxen in Isidore’s day, and even sometimes by hand.  Plowing and working the soil was hard and unending work. Men would spend time in the field from dawn until well after dusk, with very few breaks. On one occasion, Isidore’s farm hands found him praying in the field while he should have been plowing.  They ran to him to find out why he had stopped.  As they approached him they looked and saw that angels were standing behind the plow, driving a team of oxen.

I suspect the farmers of the Diocese of Lincoln might pray for angels to drive tractors and combines for them. Nebraska’s farmers do difficult work: unending, sometimes dangerous, and often exhausting.  But farmers have an opportunity to turn all of their work into prayer. The rhythm of rural life is well-suited to a life of daily prayer—of friendship with Jesus Christ. 

Farmers in combines, driving often for hours, have the opportunity to pray the rosary or meditate on Scripture.  Working the land reminds us how much God works on our souls.  And, of course, praying for rain, or sun, or warmth, reminds us how much we depend on the goodness of God.

Farmers are called to a unique vocation. Wendell Berry, the great modern agrarian philosopher, novelist and poet put it thus in his classic work, “The Unsettling of America, Culture versus Agriculture”: “the farmer, sometimes known as husbandman, is by definition half mother. And the land itself is not mother or father only, but both. Depending on the crop and season, it is at one time receiver of seed, bearer and nurturer of the young; at another, raiser of seed-stalk, bearer and shredder of seed. And in response to these changes, the farmer crosses back and forth from one zone of spousehood to another, first as planter and then as gatherer. Farmer and land are thus involved in a sort of dance… in which the lead keeps changing: the farmer, as seed-bearer, causes growth; the land, as seed-bearer, causes the harvest.”

Farmers are called to be saints—like Saint Isidore the Farmer.  And rural life provides unique opportunities to become disciples of Jesus Christ.  I spent time truck farming after college—it was a time in my life where I learned a great deal about prayer and the natural rhythms of life.  I learned to be patient.  I learned to be quiet.  I learned to listen for the Lord.

Edwin Muir, the Scottish poet, said it unforgettably,

Men are made of what is made,
The meat, the drink, the life, the corn,
Laid up by them reborn.
And self-begotten cycles close
About our way; indigenous art
And simple spells make unafraid
The haunted labyrinths of the heart
And with our wild succession braid
The resurrection of the rose.

The farmers of our diocese are strong men and women, families seeking after Jesus Christ. May they become great saints, like Saint Isidore.  And may God’s Providence bring all of us abundant blessings.

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