May 15th is the feast of Isidore the Farmer. Saint Isidore was born in 1070, to a poor family in Madrid, Spain. When he was barely big enough to carry a hoe, he began working for a wealthy landowner named Juan de Vergas. Isidore would work that land all his life. Isidore married Maria Torribia, who is now known as Saint Maria de la Cabeza. They had one son, who died as a child.
Isidore and Maria did not have much in life, and it would seem they had little to hope for. Yet they found meaning in their hard lives by loving God and caring for others. Isidore prayed all day as he plowed. He often visited churches in Madrid on his day off, and he and Maria shared what little they had with others.
Here are three stories that show how Isidore lived as Jesus taught, and how others came to see him as a saint.
Story #1: More Than Enough
Isidore walked down a road towards his church. There was going to be a dinner there, and he was looking forward to it.
From a field alongside the road came a ragged-looking man. “Please, sir,” said this man. “Do you have some food?”
Isidore smiled. He was used to hungry people coming to him. He usually gave them what he had, but as he had nothing today, he said, “My friend, come with me to the church dinner. There will be plenty to eat there!”
The two walked further down the road and did not notice a woman and three children huddled near a large tree until one of the children cried out, “We are hungry!”
“Come along!” Isidore invited, scooping up the youngest child.
As they walked along, more and more hungry people joined them and Isidore invited each one to the church dinner. So it was quite a crowd that arrived at the church that evening, with Isidore in the lead.
One of the women serving the dinner exclaimed, “Isidore! Do you expect us to feed all these people? We don’t have nearly enough food!”
Isidore gave little smile and a shrug. “These people are Christ’s poor. He will provide for them,” he said confidently.
She sighed, shook her head, and began handing out food. All those who had come before Isidore got their food. All those who came with Isidore got their food. But the serving bowls never seemed to empty! The woman looked up from the serving table and surveyed the happy crowd. No one was hungry now. Isidore was talking happily with many of them.
Again she shook her head, this time in amazement. “This reminds me of the bible story of the loaves and fishes,” she marveled, and dished up her own dinner.
Story #2: And the Birds, too, of course
It was a cold winter day when Isidore walked down the road, hunched over because he carried a large sack of grain on his back. He was on his way to the mill to have the grain ground into flour for his master’s family.
From the trees up ahead came the sound of many bids. Isidore loved animals. He and Maria always treated them tenderly. Today, his heart went out to these little ones who sounded so very hungry on this cold day.
Isidore stopped and let the bag slip from his back. He poured half of the grain onto the ground. Immediately the crowd of birds flitted down to feast. Intent on watching the birds, Isidore did not hear the approach of some other workers, also on their way to the mill.
“Wasting your master’s good grain on some silly birds, eh, Isidore?” one teased.
“I wonder what he’ll say when he finds out what that bag weighed at the mill!” the other said uneasily.
“The birds are God’s creatures too,” Isidore said mildly. “Enjoy your feast, little ones!” Then he slung the half-empty sack onto his back and set off towards the mill.
The three men walked together. One of them was amused at the trouble Isidore would soon be in, one was worried about that and the third, the gentle Isidore, was calm and happy.
When the bags were weighed, Isidore’s bag was as full as it was when he had left the farm that morning!
His companions did not speak, but looked at each other with wonder.
Story #3: What Juan de Vergas Saw
The sun was streaking the eastern sky as Juan de Vergas walked towards his fields, a worried frown on his face. As the owner of a great deal of land, he had many people working for him, and Isidore and Maria were among his favorites. He felt they were somehow a blessing to his own family. When some other workers came to him, complaining that Isidore arrived late to the fields each morning, Juan was troubled. He did not want to find out that Isidore was not as good a man as Juan believed.
When he reached the fields, Juan saw his other workers hitching oxen up to their plows. Isidore was nowhere to be seen. Juan hopefully scanned the other fields and even the roads, but he did not see Isidore anywhere. He waited.
As the sun rose higher, Isidore came walking down the road, on his way back from church. He did not see his master, and immediately went to work behind his oxen.
Isidore worked steadily, praying as he went along, row after row. Juan could see that Isidore loved working the earth. He would stop to examine a clump of plants, touching them gently, patting the warm soil around them. Still, Juan had to admit that Isidore had been late. Unhappily, he was about to call to Isidore when he saw two other men now working alongside Isidore.
Confused, Juan looked around. Where had they come from? Who were they? Isidore seemed unaware of them. And they each drove pure white oxen!
“Isidore!” Juan called. ”Who are these other men helping you?”
Isidore looked up, noticing his master for the first time. Then he looked around him, seeing nothing. “What men, sir? I do not ask for anyone’s help but God’s.”
Isidore stood looking at Juan with his open, honest face. Then Juan suddenly realized the other men were gone, as mysteriously as they had come. But half the field was plowed now.
Juan’s heart pounded. Isidore’s helpers were angels!
“Did you want something, sir?” Isidore asked.
“Oh, I….” mumbled Juan, still stunned. Then happily, he added, “I just wanted to say may God be with you, Isidore.”
Isidore smiled broadly, and went back to his plow.