Fifth Sunday of Lent – Sister Magdalen Lawler, SNDdeN

Mar 13, 2024 | Gospel Reflections

March 17: 2024

John 12: 20 – 33

This is the request of the so-called Greeks. They approach the two disciples who have Greek names; Philip and Andrew. Perhaps they felt more at ease with them. Most likely they were Greek speaking Jews, as opposed to Hebrew or Aramaic speaking Jews, who had come to Jerusalem to worship at the Passover. However, it is the sentence that they utter that draws our attention; ‘We should like to see Jesus’. Would we not all like to ‘see’ Jesus with the eyes of faith? In the previous chapter of John’s Gospel, Martha tells Mary, ‘The Master is here and wants to see you.’ This reciprocal ‘seeing’ is a theme for the wisdom we encounter in John, which is different from the wise teaching we discover in the Synoptics. John presents Jesus to us as none less than Wisdom itself, dwelling among us.

Jesus speaks to his visitors and recognises that the acceptable time has come. He describes it as the ‘hour’ or ‘Kairos’ moment when God’s plan is about to be fulfilled in him. He draws on the familiar folk wisdom of the Sower, who knows that only the ‘death’ of the single grain can produce new ‘life’ in the form of a harvest. He reminds them of the wisdom of Isaiah, who recognised that the contradiction of a servant role for the Messiah is the only role that his followers can choose. Worldly honours and status will be overthrown. Only this wisdom will reveal God’s glory in Jesus and, through him, in us. Those schooled in the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius and the wisdom of the ‘Two Standards’ will be familiar with that interpretation of Jesus’ words. We, too, will recognise the ‘little blind woman’ of Julie’s wisdom as she sought to follow her Saviour throughout the trials that life hurled at her, always remaining a servant to others and one who was also ‘despised and rejected’. She sowed the seed of wisdom in her followers. We remember her words:
Our Loving Master entered into his glory only by suffering, and yet we should like to go there by another road?

Hearing the Greek pilgrims’ response to his mission must have been immensely significant for Jesus. As at the moment of revelation at his Baptism or later, on the Mount of the Transfiguration, he realised that he is at a threshold moment in his own pilgrim life-journey. The moment of transition he also experienced in his meeting with the Syrophoenician woman showed him the next stage of his mission to all people. Jesus’ words today make it clear that God’s Kingdom is for everyone. The Kairos moment is here and his face is now set towards Jerusalem and the inevitability of suffering and death. However, we know that at the heart of John’s Gospel is the realisation that cross and resurrection are not two different moments. They are one simultaneous action of Jesus giving everything over to God and being lifted up into the transcendent light of Resurrection which he longed to share with us.

I am conscious that this Sunday is also the feast day of St. Patrick who sowed the faith in Ireland and who is honoured throughout the world as a great apostle of the Gospel. Here is a short version of his Breastplate Prayer which we might pray for our war-torn world in which the prince of this world seems to prevail. 

♣ I arise today,
through the strength of heaven.
Light of the sun; radiance of the moon,
The splendour of fire; the speed of lightning
The swiftness of wind; the depth of the sea
The stability of earth; the firmness of rock.
I arise today, through
God’s strength to pilot me;
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me;
God’s eye to look before me
God’s shield to protect me; from all who shall
wish me ill, afar and near.

♣ I arise today.

Christ with me; Christ before me,
Christ behind me; Christ in me
Christ beneath me; Christ above me
Christ on my right hand; Christ on my left hand
Christ when I lie down; Christ when I arise
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me;
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me.

♣ I arise today.


John 12: 20 – 33

Among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. These approached Philip, who came from Bethsaida in Galilee, and put this request to him, “Sir, we should like to see Jesus.” Philip went to tell Andrew, and Andrew and Philip together went to tell Jesus.

Jesus replied to them: “Now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you, most solemnly, unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.
“Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life. If a man serves me, he must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there too. If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him. Now my soul is troubled. What shall I say: Father, save me from this hour? But it was for this very reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”

A voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

People standing by, who heard this, said it was a clap of thunder; other said, “It was an angel speaking to him.”
Jesus answered, “It was not for my sake that this voice came, but for yours. Now sentence is being passed on this world; now the prince of this world is to be overthrown. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself.”
By these words he indicated the kind of death he would die.

The Gospel of the Lord



Meet Sister Magdalen Lawler, SNDdeN

Sister Magdalen Lawler was born in London of Irish immigrant parents in early 1940 during the intensive BLITZ of London before the air defences were in place. Her home was bombed and her father joined the RAF. Magdalen and her mother took refuge in the far north east of Scotland for the duration of the war and for a short time afterwards. When she was 11 years old Magdalen went to school at Notre Dame, Battersea. On leaving school she attended Notre Dame College in Liverpool and she entered the Congregation shortly after leaving the College and just before her 21st birthday. After profession she was sent to continue her studies and she specialized in Art and Art History, at Liverpool, acquiring a national BA degree in Art and Art history in 1967. Later, when Catholic theology became available for women, she returned to London University for a Master of Theology degree and a Diploma in Pastoral Theology from Heythrop, the Jesuit School of the University of London. In 1980 she trained in Ignatian Spirituality in St. Beuno’s Ignatian Spirituality Centre, North Wales. She has worked extensively in secondary and tertiary education as well as residential groups for young adults. Since 1980 this has been in tandem with retreat work for students and adults. Magdalen retired from formal education in 2000 and now works in pastoral formation and retreat work with various groups of adults, especially women. Her work takes her all over the UK and she has developed a great interest in the relationship between spirituality and the visual arts. She serves as Chair of the Catholic Network for Retreats and Spirituality and advises other bodies in ecumenical association with that network. This brings her into frequent working contact with Anglicans, and other denominations, such as Quakers and Methodists. Art is a wonderful way into the spirituality of others and frequently helps people to find a language for their experience.