Last week, I had lunch with a friend of mine who recently moved her family from the suburbs of New York City to live on a small farm in New England. She told me tales of her husband and kids as they learned to grow corn, milk goats, and care for chickens. It sounded like a reality TV show.
This kind of move, from city to country life, has been a common story in the past few years. Beginning with the Covid-19 lockdowns, people in large cities have been moving to small towns in droves, seeking a quieter, more rural life. With all the demand, real estate prices for land in our home state of New Hampshire have shot through the roof. It seems that “getting back to nature” has more popular appeal than ever.
“We just felt a need to get away from all the noise and distraction,” my friend told me as I nodded in agreement. My husband Dan and I have lived in a small town for over 20 years. Our nearest neighbor lives a quarter of a mile away, down a dirt road. We get it.
I’m sure that St. Isidore the Farmer, a man who lived and worked on a wealthy landowner’s farm for most of his life and whose feast day we celebrate May 15, gets it too. Born in Madrid in 1070, Isidore left the city to move to a farm when he was still a young boy, and he never went back. He is so well known for his commitment to rustic living, in fact, that he is considered the patron saint of farmers and rural communities.
But Isidore was committed to more than just farming. He was most known for his great devotion to prayer. He woke early every day to walk miles to the local church and attend Mass. He sometimes lingered there so long that his coworkers grumbled about him being late for work. It was said that on some of these occasions, angels would intercede and could be seen helping to finish his work in the fields so that Isidore could go to Mass without guilt.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is another saint who made a dramatic change in lifestyle when, after moving from New York City to Baltimore, a friend gave her some land and a farm in Emmitsburg, Maryland. She moved there in 1809 and founded a school and a religious community. Like my friend and her family, St. Elizabeth Ann likely needed to learn new skills and make some adjustments to her lifestyle to adapt to country living. But she was devoted to God and was aware of his presence in every place and every activity. She once wrote:
“You know the general principle: that God is everywhere. On the throne of His glory among the blessed indeed, but also throughout the whole universe which He fills, governs and preserves, ruling it by wisdom and grace. This we learn in our infancy, as in all of our memory in childhood. Yet in the practice of life, we live along as if we scarcely remembered that God sees us.”
It can be much easier to remember that “God sees us” when we are surrounded by natural beauty, country landscapes, and simple work instead of noise, screens, and machines. We can’t all live in the country, but we can make conscious efforts to unplug, create more room for silence in our days, and connect with the ever-present God.
With their slower lifestyles and their dynamic faith lives, St. Isidore and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton both focused on serving God by loving and serving the people around them. Both were known for their compassion for the poor and those in need. There are stories of St. Isidore miraculously providing food for hungry people during his life, and St. Elizabeth Ann was devoted to helping young girls from poor families gain access to life-changing education and training in skills that would help them better themselves and their families.
As we celebrate the feast of St. Isidore the Farmer, we can take inspiration from his example and the example of Mother Seton and seek greater simplicity in our own lives. Whether we are learning to milk goats, plowing the land, or simply making more time for quiet prayer in our days, we can know that “God sees us” and he is drawing us ever closer to him.
DANIELLE BEAN is a writer and popular speaker on Catholic family life, parenting, marriage, and the spirituality of motherhood. She is the former publisher and editor-in-chief of Catholic Digest, and the author of several books for women including Momnipotent, You’re Worth It! and her newest book, You Are Enough. She is also creator and host of the Girlfriends podcast. Learn more at DanielleBean.com.
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