The protagonist of a story is the main character around whom all the action centers. The protagonist of The Lord of the Rings trilogy is Frodo Baggins. The protagonist of Gone With the Wind is Scarlett O’Hara. The protagonist of The Hunger Games is Katniss Everdeen.
So, if I were to ask you who is the protagonist in the story of your life, you would probably say "me." However, you would be wrong.
The protagonist of the story of our lives, the main character around whom all the action centers, is not us.
It is God.
God is the main character in our lives not just because He is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. God is the main character in our lives because He is the great initiator. What do I mean?
In our readings today, we hear two key phrases (one in St. John’s letter, the other in the Gospel according to John) which tell us how God initiates the first action in our lives. In the second reading, St. John’s letter, John says, “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us.” Here, we see that the love we have for God is not something of our own initiative or our own doing. Rather, it is simply the response to the initiative God takes with us. Before we can ever love God, He loves us first.
And in the the Gospel, Jesus tells us, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you.” Again, choosing God is not something we decide to do as it were. Rather, God chooses us first. Our choosing him, is simply our response.
Maybe you’ve heard stories about how inmates on death row “found” Jesus while awaiting their death sentence.
In reality, it was not them who found Jesus, but Jesus who found them first.
Now the question is, “Why does this matter? What’s the big deal?” It seems simple enough right? God loves us first, we respond. But perhaps that’s not how we always see our relationship with God or with one another for that matter?
What do I mean? It’s this: How often do we try to “earn” the love of another? I would venture to say quite often.
When a young person falls in love, experiences a crush, often they will do anything to gain the attention and the affection of the object of their desire. And in their mind they will say, “If I do this for this person, they will appreciate me.” “If I say this to this person, they will respect me.” “If I look this way, if I’m prettier or more athletic, if I am more handsome or witty, they will love me.”
But that isn’t love. That is merely appealing to the needs of another and offering oneself as the solution to those needs. “Oh, you want to laugh, I can make you laugh, now love me.” “Oh, you want to be seen with a good looking partner, here I am. Now will you love me in return?”
And that’s not the relationship God wishes to have with us. There is nothing we can do to “earn” God’s love. There is nothing we can offer God to make Him love us. Because God has no need of us. We can’t say to God, “God, I’m pretty” or “God, I’m funny” or even “God, I’m holy, now will you love me in return?”
Because God already loves us. He loves us before we even exist. Jeremiah 1:5 says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you.”
Earlier this week, a man came to my office to discuss some matters and we got on the topic of homilies. He said, “Father, we need to hear more catechetical homilies. We don’t know our faith as well as we should.” Then he said, “When I hear a ‘God loves you’ homily, I tune out. And I’m thinking to myself, “Well, you’re gonna love this one.”
We need to hear God loves us. Perhaps we don’t hear it enough. I know there are some who don’t believe it. I spoke with another man this week who expressed this pain of not knowing the Father’s love. And I told him I could prove God’s love for him. “You exist,” I said. None of us could exist without the love of God. As I said, He has no need for us, so were not here for some utilitarian purpose. We are here because God chooses to love us, not for His sake or need, but for ours.
And its very fitting that we talk about this kind of love on this Mother’s Day weekend. Mother’s know very well what it means to love as God loves. Like God, they love their children long before their children love them. Months before your children ever set eyes on you, you love them as they grow in the womb. So you mothers know well what St. John means when he says of God’s love, “not that we have loved God, but that He loved us.” “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you.”
Can your children do anything to “earn” your love? No, of course not, you simply love them.
And in this month of May, in which we give particular honor to Mary, we see a shining example of how God loves first. She is immaculately conceived; born without original sin. Not because of any personal merit of her own, but because of the pure gift of the Father. Before Mary loved the Father, the Father loved her.
So the Father loves us. Not because we are pretty, handsome, smart or athletic. But because God’s love is purely of His doing and not ours.
You are loved, not because of who you are, but because of who God is.