May 15 – Pachomius the Great; Isidore the Farmer

Pachomius the Great (ca. 292–346/348) was a soldier in the Roman army who benefitted from C.A.R.E. (Christians Aiding Roman Enlistees) packages, and vowed to investigate Christianity upon his discharge. He did, was baptized, and within three years was apprentice-hermiting under Palaemon. After seven years he struck out on his own, imitating St. Anthony of Egypt (Jan 17), whom he admired and lived near. One day he heard a voice telling him to build a monastery. “Monastery?” he said. “What’s that?” Not long after, an angel dressed as a schemamonk (of which there were none yet) explained the concept and gave him a rule to use on his future monks. (This means a set of principles to guide them, not a stick to hit them with.) Thus he became not only the first hermit to become an abbot, but the one of the few to do it on purpose. For this reason he is called the Father of Monasticism. He also invented the prayer rope, but due to some unknown injustice he is not called the Father of Prayer Ropism.

Pachomius himself founded nine monasteries, and within a generation after his death there were 7,000 monks and nuns living the cenobitic* life—that is, as members of a monastic community with a common rule of life. His sister, if tales be true, was the first abbess. His cenobitic, rule-based idea was taken to Caesarea by St. Basil (Jan 1), and from there it spread, ultimately inspiring St. Benedict of Nursia (Mar 14), whose Rule, based in part on Pachomius’, is the backbone of western monasticism. He (Pachomius) died from some kind of illness (the sources hint at, but won’t commit to, plague), after passing on the mantle to his disciples. He is one of few post-biblical saints to be honored by both Catholics, Orthodox, and the Oriental churches (Copts, Ethiopians, Armenians).

Isidore the Farmer (ca. 1070–1130) was a day-laborer on a farm near Madrid. After their son died young, he and his wife chose to live in Continence, which was a little to the west of Reproductionville. (She now drops out of the story, but at least she has a name—Maria de la Cabeza.) Isidore worked hard, but he always showed up late for work on account of going to daily Mass. The other laborers complained to the farm owner, so the next day he spied on Isidore to see if this were true. It was. After church he followed Isidore into the fields, and saw beside Isidore’s furrow a second plough, drawn by ghostly white oxen, but there was no one at the helm (so to speak). He ran towards it awefully, but it vanished, leaving only Isidore and his plain, ordinary oxen (whose names are not given, but you can call them José and Jorge, if you like). The farmer, whose name was Juan (really), asked Isidore about it, but he said, “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

One snowy winter’s day (which seems redundant, but then they’ve been having some odd Spring weather in Minnesota, I’m told), Isidore, who had a kindly heart for all beasts and most men, saw some pitiful birds looking pitiable. He took pity on them and, opening the sack of grain he was carrying to the mill, poured out fully half of it (which is an oxymoron, for pity’s sake). All of the other laborers laughed and called him names, and vowed to never let poor Isidore join in any day-laborer games. Yet when they got to the mill, Isidore’s sack was full again, and what’s more, when it was ground, it yielded double the amount it had any right to.

Isidore died in peace, and a shrine, a cultus, a hagiography, and a body of miracles soon grew up around him. Aside from farmers, ranchers, laborers, and twenty-odd other cities, he is the patron saint of Madrid.