Saint Isidore and the holiness of manual labor

“…these hands of mine have provided
for both my needs and needs of those with me…
…by working hard one must help the weak…”
Paul’s farewell to the Ephesians
Acts 20: 34-35

In the Western world and in the upper class societies throughout the world there is a prejudice against manual labor. I even saw this in Ames, Iowa, where Iowa State University is the first land-grant college in the US.

Yet even St. Paul is proud that by the work of his hands he cared for himself, his friends, and the poor.

Maria and Isidore (NCRLC image)

Maria and Isidore (NCRLC image)

Today the church celebrates Saint Isidore the Farm Laborer, a Spanish day laborer on a farm near Madrid, who lived from about 1070 to 1130. His wife, St. Toribia or St. Maria de la Cabeza, is celebrated on September 9.

Robert Ellsberg’s remarks on Isidore, in All Saints and in his short biography in the May 2013 Give Us This Day, are telling.

St. Isidore was canonized in 1622 with five great saints of the Counter-Reformation; unlike them, “he accomplished no great deeds (apart from tilling the land). He was, in fact, a simple farmworker.”

Tilling the land should be seen as a great deed, a way to holiness. St. Isidore lived a live of heroic holiness doing what the people here in rural Honduras do everyday – the hard work of tilling, weeding, harvesting.

“[St. Isidore] knew the hardships, the toil, and sorrows of all farmworkers then and since. And he displayed the simple though profound faith so common to campesinos the world over.”

Today I recall all those people who work the land – here and throughout the world. I recall friends in Iowa who are farming, often with little machinery, to provide food for themselves and others. I think of those here in Honduras who are now preparing their lands to plant the corn that is the staple of life.

By the work of their hands they are sanctifying the world and themselves. By farming they are seeking to be saints.

DSC04107

Growing Harmony Farm T-shirt

They may not write great tomes of theology or spirituality (though one of my farmer friends, Gary, is a spiritual director). They may not ever be known outside of their family and friends (though Gary is known throughout central Iowa as the carrot king.)

But their work on the land not only provides food; it is their way of living the Kingdom of God, especially those who use sustainable and organic farming methods. It is their way of trying to be saints.

The last line of Robert Ellsberg’s biography of St. Isidore merits our attention, today and every day:

In the list of canonized saints, his type is surprisingly rare; in heaven, presumably, less so.

Let us today celebrate these saints who became holy by the work of their hands.

 

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One response to “Saint Isidore and the holiness of manual labor

  1. Your post prompts me to think of the parents we serve in shelter who toil with their hands be it making sandwiches at McDonalds, turning over an elderly person in a nursing home or working in landscaping. Like St. Paul, they are proud that by the work of their hands they are able to take care of themselves, their families, and at times, others who are in need.

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