Category Archives: farming

Farmer saints and justice for the land

San Isidro La Cueva procession 2013

San Isidro La Cueva procession 2013

Today is the feast of Saint Isidore the Farmer, a Spanish farm laborer who – with his wife Turibia (sometimes known as Santa María de la Cabeza) – is an example of the holiness of workers on the land.

My 24 years in Ames, Iowa, left me with a profound respect for farmers and for all those who work on the land.

In Iowa there is – or, at least, has been – a rural culture of respect for the land and care for others. How many times did I hear of farmers getting together to harvest the crop of a neighbor who had fallen ill.

Yes, many farmers have given in to the desire for gain at all cost. But many still respect the land and some who provide people with wholesome food. Thanks are due to them, including Gary, Ellen, Alice, and others.

But the issues for farmers in the US and here in Central America are not just questions of ecology; they include land tenure and more.

In a 1988 pastoral letter, The Cry for Land, the Guatemalan bishops wrote:

We belong to the earth (Gen 2:7) and it belongs to us because when the Lord created us, he charged us to till it and care for it (Gen 2:15). Thus, work in agriculture appears the quintessential task by which we situate ourselves in the world and before God.

Many scriptural texts express joy at the fruit of our fatiguing labor on the land and our thanksgiving for God’s blessing. When the land bears a crop, we know that God blesses us (Ps 67:7; 85:13)….

The land does not belong to us, but to God, and what each calls property is in reality the portion needed to live. ‘The land and all in it, the world and those who inhabit it, belong to God” (Ps 24:1)….

In Recife, Brazil, [Pope] John Paul II told the farmers: ‘The land is a gift from God, a gift for all human beings, men and women, who are called to be united in a single family and related to one another in a fraternal spirit. Therefore, it is not legitimate, because it is not according to God’s design, to use this gift so that its fruits benefit only a few, excluding others, who form the immense majority.’”

Today, remembering San Isidro Labrador and his wife Santa María de la Cabeza, I pray for all farmers, all workers on the land.

And so I’m heading out in about an hour for Mass in the village of San Isidro La Cueva to celebrate the feast with campesinos and campesinos.

The gift of the land

Today is the feast of Saint Isidore the Farmworker, who lived and worked the land near Madrid.

Not much is known about his life but maybe what is important about him for us is his work on the land.

Procession, San Isidro La Cueva, 2013

Procession, San Isidro La Cueva, 2013

He was a farmworker – so poor that he worked for a landowner, as so many people do these days in places like Honduras.

Some campesinos here don’t have enough money to buy land, or the land is overpriced, or large landowners buy up most of the land and use it for grazing cattle or growing cash crops. All too often those who work the land don’t have access to land where they can grown corn and beans for their families.

A few decades ago, the Guatemalan bishops wrote a prophetic pastoral letter, The Cry of the Land. Here are a few excerpts.

We belong to the earth (Gen 2:7) and it belongs to us because when the Lord created us, he charged us to till it and care for it (Gen 2:15). Thus, work in agriculture appears the quintessential task by which we situate ourselves in the world and before God.

Many scriptural texts express joy at the fruit of our fatiguing labor on the land and our thanksgiving for God’s blessing. When the land bears a crop, we know that God blesses us (Ps 67:7; 85:13)….

The land does not belong to us, but to God, and what each calls property is in reality the portion needed to live. ‘The land and all in it, the world and those who inhabit it, belong to God” (Ps 24:1)….

In Recife, Brazil, [Pope] John Paul II told the farmers: “The land is a gift from God, a gift for all human beings, men and women, who are called to be united in a single family and related to one another in a fraternal spirit. Therefore, it is not legitimate, because it is not according to God’s design, to use this gift so that its fruits benefit only a few, excluding others, who form the immense majority.”

Mustard seeds

The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed,
that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest
of all the seeds on the earth.
But once it is sown, it springs up
and becomes the largest of plants
and puts forth large branches,
so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.
Mark 4: 30-32

 Jesus used this and other agricultural images to speak of his work and how God makes it grow despite our small efforts.

Today we remember Bishop Maurice Dingman who had been the bishop of Des Moines, Iowa, who died on February 1, 1992. A beloved bishop I met him and heard him a few times; I was especially impressed by his simplicity. He was a great pastoral man who was also outspoken in his defense of the family farmer, especially in the 1980s when the farm crisis hit many families in Iowa. But he was also not afraid to speak out against war, in particular against nuclear weapons and against the US-sponsored wars in Central America.

In many ways he combined the prophetic and the pastoral in his ministry.

He was a man of vision:

 You are to look forward to the future. Make the work of the future your task. It is an immense task, and you do this in three ways: be a spark of light, a center of love, and a leaven in the world in which you live. We can’t do everything, but we can do something. All we really have to do is to open ourselves to these possibilities. I ask you to continue to search for truth. I urge you to continue your lives in a fashion so you can hear the word of God, put it into your own idiom, and then live it out.

May his inspiration move us to pray and work for peace with justice and  to be in solidarity with all the farmers of the world, especially those who struggle to make ends meet in order to feed their families.

 

St. Isidore the Farmworker

On May 15, 1130, outside Madrid, Saint Isidore died. Though he is invoked as St. Isidore the Farmer, he might better be called St. Isidore the Farmworker, in Spanish, San Isidro Labrador. He was not a farmer who owned his land, but – as many people do here – worked on another person’s fields.

From  his teens, St. Isidore worked as a day laborer on the farm of a landowner. He led a life of devotion, attending Mass each morning. But he was also known for his generosity to the poor as well as to animals.

A delightful story is that one winter day he was on his way to grind grain. Seeing some hungry birds, he poured out half his sack of grain to feed them. When he arrived at the mill, the sack was filled.

There are also stories of angels accompanying him farming.

An image I have seen here is Saint Isidore with two oxen, pulling his plough. It must mean a lot to people here in Honduras since in the department of Intibucá I have seen teams of oxen carrying materials and even plowing the field.

Saint Isidore reminds us of the dignity of work but also calls us to work for justice for all farmworkers, that they may have land to work so that they can sustain their lives and the lives of their families.

Let us pray today for justice in the land.

Such a call for justice can be heard in the Guatemalan bishops’ statement  The Cry of the Land:

“We belong to the earth (Gen 2:7) and it belongs to us because when the Lord created us, he charged us to till it and care for it (Gen 2:15). Thus, work in agriculture appears the quintessential task by which we situate ourselves in the world and before God.

“Many scriptural texts express joy at the fruit of our fatiguing labor on the land and our thanksgiving for God’s blessing. When the land bears a crop, we know that God blesses us (Ps 67:7; 85:13)….

“The land does not belong to us, but to God, and what each calls property is in reality the portion needed to live. ‘The land and all in it, the world and those who inhabit it, belong to God” (Ps 24:1)….

“In Recife, Brazil, [Pope] John Paul II told the farmers: ‘The land is a gift from God, a gift for all human beings, men and women, who are called to be united in a single family and related to one another in a fraternal spirit. Therefore, it is not legitimate, because it is not according to God’s design, to use this gift so that its fruits benefit only a few, excluding others, who form the immense majority.’”