By Father Martindale
IF only because we would like everyone to pray for Spain, it is out of the question to omit St. Isidore, patron of Madrid, where he was born, and of Spain at large. Again, we are often asked whether laymen have any chance—especially if they were married. Well, St. Isidore was a layman, and married, though after the death of a small son, he and his wife agreed to live separate. Moreover, Isidore was a labourer, which is rather a relief to us after describing so many prelates and aristocrats. Unfortunately, not very much is known a-bout him; but what is, has points of unusual interest, for example, his affection for animals, and all those who consider that we do not take animals, and cruelty in their regard, sufficiently into account, ought to invoke him that we may do better in this department, without lapsing into that odious sentimentality which is proper to those who refuse to have children, but keep lap-dogs and call them their " babies," or who fuss endlessly over quadrupeds while under-paying or underfeeding their even more helpless servants.
Born in Madrid Isidore, then, was born some time or other in Madrid, of parents so poor that no date can be assigned to this event. He was not a " hidalgo," which means, Son of Someone—the very poor not being regarded as anyone. He could not he educated, and, in our day, would not have been among those so privileged as to have been enabled to read the divorce and betting news of a Sunday. He did, however, learn how to hate sin, which is always something.
The moment he could work, he became a day-labourer on the estate of a certain Juan de Vergas, and remained all his life in his service, which, in our days of easy " fed-up-ness " with a job, is again to be admired. One element which makes me nervous about the " fibre " of our young men, is, that I find so often that, having (with infinite difficulty) been equipped with jobs, our city-lads are so ready to chuck them because they get " on their nerves "; they find the country " too dull"; or, as a stevedore, would you believe it, told me about himself, " suffer from an inferiority complex." To get back to our Saint.
This Happy Man This happy man, like Mat Talbot, could pray, though there is no evidence that, like the Irish working-man, he had to get the better Qf . his national equivalents of Guiness's or potheen. He prayed at his plough, and ploughing is indeed a rhythmic occupation, far more conducive to prayer than, for example, writing these articles is. though they certainly force on one the opportunity of praying to unexpected Saints. (For example, on this same May 15, is commemorated a patriarch of Constantinople, St. Nicholas Mysticus, who died, I understand, in 925. He was a friend of several Emperors, but got into trouble for refusing to sanction the fourth marriage of the Emperor Leo the Wise, in which really I think he displayed rather more wisdom than the Emperor did. Anyway he excommunicated the Emperor and the Emperor banished him, so all was square. He was afterwards recalled, held in great esteem, and acquired (to my preliminary bewilderment) the title of Mystic, not because he had visions and so forth, but because he was a member of the " mystic," i.e., privy, council of the Emperor. I apologise for this digression, but the whole thing appeared to me so odd, and anyhow I have invoked him and am wondering what he will do for me.)
Well, Isidore. His fellow-labourers complained that his going to Mass in the morning made him late for work. Vergas hid himself in a hollow tree to see whether Isidore really was late. He was. Vergas extricated himself and went to rebuke him. But, when he saw Isidore ploughing, he saw also besides him an extra team of snow-white oxen driven by Unknowns. When he had assimilated this, and had noted that anyhow the proper amount of work had been done, the heavenly oxen and their drivers vanished, and he retired, having learnt a lesson. Impossible for anyone to test the truth of this story; but that, at any rate, is the lovely sort of thing that men then could think, and artistic fancy, if nothing else, has degeperated between then and now, because no one, I fear, on any of our few surviving farms, would be capable even of inventing so charming a fairy-talc—if that is all it was.
Poor, Compassionate Isidore, very poor, " had compassion on the multitudes " who were poorer even than he was. He shared his meals with them, and kept the scraps left over for himself. One night, he had been asked to a pious dinner, such as we so often suffer from. He came late — he had been in church—and a horde of his pauper friends accompanied him. His hosts howled. They had kept his portion for him: but these others . . ? We arc reminded of Our Lord arriving uninvited, with a number of disciples, at the wedding-feast of Cana. Isidore said there would be enough for all. And there was. And, like St. Francis, he loved the little beasts and birds who possessed that supremely mysterious—aloneGod-given--mystery of life. It is difficult to convince any Englishman how bitterly cold the Spanish uplands are in winter. Anyhow they 'are. On a snowy day, he, Carrying a sack of grain to be ground, perceived a bough-full of birds sitting forlorn and foodless. Ile split the sack, and, despite the jeers of his companion, poured out half the grain that the little things might eat. But when they reached their destination, the sack was as full as ever, and, what is more, the corn, when ground, produced double the usual amount of flour.
There is no way of testing, evidently,
this sort of story. But my personal conviction is this: Miracles are worked either because the Faith is being newly introduced into a place, and requires something extraordinary to " recommend " it — like the " miracle " of Nathaniel, or of the Samaritan women: or, because someone of extreme Simplicity asks for one; or perhaps, because a man may be so up against it that he says to the Lord: " This is obviously beyond me. Take a hand Yourself." Then, without doubt, He does. When you read about Spanish royalties or grandees, you must never forget that they were persons, in reality, of great simplicity. Kings always wanted the ploughman to be formally canonised, which popular opinion had done long ago. Centuries went by. In 1622, he was enrolled among the Saints, along with St. Ignatius, St. Francis Xavier, St. Teresa, and (strangely enough) St. Philip Ned, of whom we write next time. These Saints are known in Spain as " The Five Saints." A sacrosanct quintet.
Lies England has been deluged with lying propaganda about Spain. The way to be most truthful is to say the opposite of anything you read in the general Press. The best system is to go back to the true Spain, which unhesitatingly recognised Sanctity where it saw it—in king and grandee alike and labouring-man, just as the Church does now, paying not the slightest attention to whether the Saint is " in with " financiers, hereditary noblemen, or presidents or monarchs, but whether he was " right with God." The only thing you can say—in the wake of Christ Himself—is that it is very hard for a rich or eminent man to be a Saint: and, if he is, all the more credit to him. But we must he level-minded. Rich men do live holily. We know some. Therefore any sort of inverted campaign against the rich or the exalted, is as cruel, as silly, as unjust, as the easy rhetorical abuse of such persons which, at present, we are far more liable to read in the popular Press than to read flattery of them. I am beginning to think that the peasant (if any) requires less protection than the prince.