Magdalene Thérèse Ramirez, aka, Maggie, was born on May 19, 2007, and was baptized on June 1, 2007, the feast day of St. Justin Martyr. Twelve days before her 11th birthday she unexpectedly and tragically died from a brain tumor.
We named her after St. Mary Magdalene and St. Thérèse of Lisieux, women known for their deep love for Jesus.
St. Mary Magdalene was a part of a company of women who followed Jesus during His ministry. She was one of only three people who followed Him all the way to the cross. And she was the first to discover the empty tomb and see her resurrected Love.
St. Thérèse – also known as “the Little Flower” – was a nun from Lisieux, France, who died in 1897. Her love for Jesus was displayed in a life of simplicity. She taught the world how to wash dishes and make beds with the supernatural love of Jesus. In other words, St. Thérèse taught us the beauty and sanctity of the ordinary Christian life.
From Maggie’s birth we knew she was special, because when she came out of her mother’s womb, she did so in the Superman pose. The first thing we saw coming out was her right arm fully extended. Clearly, she was on a mission. And when she left us at 10 years, 11 months, 2 weeks and 3 days old, her mission was complete. She had fulfilled her purpose, which was to show us the joy of the Gospel and God’s determined love for a world that disappoints.
There were so many things that Maggie loved to do and invested her heart in, and there was no area of her life that wasn’t filled with joy and happiness. She was the life of the party, as the saying goes. Only, for Maggie, there was no end to the celebration of life.
She would gather us around to listen to her tell jokes and act silly with the full expectation that we would all follow suit. She loved to have family dance competitions; she would make up her own games; she would walk around talking in different accents, acting like characters she made up.
Maggie loved to sing and had a beautiful voice. Her and her older sister Elizabeth would often sing together but almost never in harmony. With more than a little confidence, she liked to challenge her older sister to see who could sing the highest pitch, knowing full well that with only half of the effort she could out perform Elizabeth. She knew most if not all of the lyrics to most of the songs that played on our local Christian radio stations.
Maggie loved to cook as well as eat. Two of her favorite shows were Chopped and Beat Bobby Flay (she always rooted for Bobby). On a few occasions we let her and her sisters do their own version of Chopped in our kitchen, with Jeni and I as the judges. Funny enough, many of the photos we have of Maggie are of her and food. Two of her favorite desserts were donuts and marshmallows. Marshmallows seemed to have a supernatural power over her, so much so that when she was younger, when we would walk down the baking aisle at the grocery store, she would bite into as many marshmallow bags as she could before getting caught.
Maggie loved science. One of her treasured gifts was a telescope that her Uncle Addison helped her put together one night. Together they gazed at the moon. As it turned out, that was not only the first but the last time she would use it. Perhaps she saw something more than the moon that night.
Maggie loved animals, especially cats and birds. Her mom would take her and her siblings regularly to the local pet shop to visit the animals. While we never bought her a cat, we did get her a pair of adult binoculars to spot birds. She loved to draw and design clothing and dress very girly. She was very much about glam and princesses.
Above all of the things that Maggie loved to do, she loved to spend time with her family and friends. She hated to be alone and doing things alone. Everything she did she wanted her family to be involved in. Even something as simple as jumping on the trampoline, she wanted us all to do it. It’s not surprising that one of her favorite days of the week was Family Night, which was Saturday. She was always the one to remind us of this, and she would keep track of how many times we missed it. Spending the night with her Papa and Mima was always something she did throughout her life and something she very much looked forward to.
Maggie loved video games, board games, and using her imagination to make up her own games. Honestly, she was so full of joy that there isn’t a memory of her from our ordinary lives she didn’t infuse with this extraordinary gift.
Along with the gift of joy, Maggie also had the supernatural gift of child-like faith. Like most kids, Maggie thought Mass was boring and struggled to pay attention, but this didn’t characterize her relationship with God in Jesus and His saints. She had a quiet but deep piety stemming from a faith that wasn’t dependent upon a particular stage in her intellectual development and/or an adult-like behavior towards God. Rather, her faith and her formation came from, quite simply, the life of the Church, and her parent’s love for the same.
Beginning with her baptism as an infant, her relationship with God blurred the line between the spiritual and the physical. It is not an exaggeration to say that Maggie lived and moved and had her being in a world where the real presence of God and His saints were an ongoing, coexisting reality with her. This was possible because “That world” and “This world,” she was taught, were brought together in the resurrected humanity, the very body and blood of Jesus.
Her gaze was directed by her parents to the stained glass windows and statues, not as the museum furniture of a high cultural etiquette, but as in-breakings of the kingdom of God. She knelt before them in prayer. These she touched and kissed and lit candles before, because in some way by doing so, she was taught, she conversed with and held the hands of angels and saints. And she saw her parents do the same.
For most of her life, from the time she could walk, Maggie, with her parents, genuflected before entering and upon exiting the pew in mental, emotional and bodily recognition that they were in the Divine Presence of God manifested in the appearance of sacrificial bread and wine kept in a small tabernacle in front of the church for all to see and revere. She had to bless herself with holy water upon entering and exiting the church.
Maggie saw babies baptized and children dressed in white receive their First Holy Communion. She was taught that one day she would join their ranks; that a time would come when she would be adorned in an all white dress and walk down the aisle to the altar of God to physically receive the most intimate communion with Him this side of the grave. She was so excited for this day.
Her life was governed by the Church’s liturgical calendar of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost, the Holy Days of Obligation, solemnities and the feast days of the saints. She went to midnight Masses and Easter Vigils.
On many nights she prayed a family litany of saints and chanted the Our Father in Latin. At times, along with her siblings she had to kiss the feet of a crucifix before going to bed. She slept with a wooden St. Benedict Crucifix and a large statue of St. Thérèse. She had a statue of St. Rita on her dresser.
Like clockwork, when it was time to go to bed, Maggie would put on one of her gregorian chant CDs from the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, an order of nuns in Gower, MO, for whom she had a great love and whose ranks she thought she was called from the age of 5 or 6 years old. At the time, she felt the need to write her father a letter about this, saying God was calling her to be a nun once she turned 18 years old, but he need not worry because she would still be his daughter. When she died, she was going back and forth between being a nun or a hairstylist.
The nuns were kind enough to address their newsletters to her, and she was always checking the mail for them. Three of them she hung up next to her bed like posters. One of them had the words, “Behold, I make all things new.”
Her books were a comic book version of the Bible and the lives of the saints. From the time she was a child, Maggie watched numerous movies on Jesus and the saints. These were not cute kid movies, that is, something to “keep her occupied.” These movies were our family time. We watched together with tears and excitement these portrayals of Jesus and His saints (however poor the productions!). Some of the last movies Maggie saw were on the lives of St. Maria Goretti, St. Padre Pio, St. John Bosco and St. Joan of Arc.
Through the medium of the life of the Church, Maggie lived in both worlds. She could spend hours outside playing with friends, then come inside and, in her own words, see the crucifix and feel an ache in her heart that would make her want to cry. We could be on our way back from getting ice cream and, again in her own words, she would look into the sky and see Jesus. One minute she could be playing a video game, and another on the back porch having a serious conversation with a bird.
I remember once when she got hurt playing backyard soccer with her older sister and the neighbor kids, right in the middle of the game she started wandering around the yard singing her own hymn to God to calm herself. She would do the same in the final two weeks of her life. In between the headaches and vomiting, she would sing or hum Matt Maher’s Lord I Need You.
In the final week of her life, in the midst of all of our family activities and when we were regrettably so ignorant of her condition, she told her mom and older sister how she was going to go to heaven. She said she was going to float above her body. Her guardian angel would take her by the hand and they would walk across the earth until the earth faded away. Then, suddenly, she would be in heaven. My wife asked her why in the world she was talking like this. In classic Maggie, she said, “Because it’s cool.”
On May 6, 2018, at 7:31 pm (CST), the last Sunday of the Easter season, Magdalene Thérèse Ramirez, aka, Maggie, breathed her last breath and was birthed into eternity.
As our family carries this cross, although at times it very much feels like we’re hanging on the cross, Maggie has been teaching us anew that carrying the cross is not just a matter of shouldering it but of holding it up high as a trophy and proclamation that God in Jesus has obtained victory over the fallenness of life and creation and has set us free to live and die in faith, hope, love, joy and peace.
As we are being recreated in ourselves, our marriage and our family through Maggie’s witness, our suffering has conceived a passion to be instruments of Maggie’s work, her mission, for others.