The first letter of John, over and over, tells the reader what the letter is for. Again and again, we find “I write to you because” or “I write to you so that.” It’s helpful for us who are often inattentive readers, who so often forget why we’re reading or what the letter is talking about.
But let’s focus on just one of these times. We read:
“I write this to you so that you know that you have eternal life” (1 Jn 5:13).
Part of the mystery of this comment is that we need someone to tell us that we are alive. There is no spiritual heartbeat to let us know if we have eternal life. Only God knows, because it is a share in his own invisible life. This is the life that John also calls “the Father’s love,” (1 Jn 2:15) or even just “having the Father” (1 Jn 2:23).
How does John know that his readers have eternal life, then? Let’s read the full verse:
“I write this to you so that you know that you have eternal life, to you who believe in the name of the Son of God” (1 Jn 5:13).
The grammar comes across funny in English, but John is making clear exactly to whom he is writing. He is specifying the “you.” And John knows that you who believe have life because God already bore witness through the divine mouth of Jesus Christ: “The Son of Man must be lifted up so that all who believe in him might have eternal life” (Jn 3:14–15).
What about us? How do I know if John’s letter is written to me? The best answer is this: the sacraments. Just as John specifies the “you” to whom he writes, the sacraments are directed to the “you” who receives: “I baptize you.” “I absolve you.” Jesus, through the Church and through his priest, specifies the “you” he is giving life to. Some sacraments declare that you are brought from death to life. Some witness to a strengthening of this life or to a new place in the Body of Christ. God declares it and does it.
So, you know that you are alive when you receive the sacraments that bring you from death to life: Baptism and Confession. And if you have persevered in love, then you know that God strengthens this life every time you receive any of the other sacraments. You know because God declares it. And if you are receiving these sacraments, then St. John and I are both writing to you, “and we write this that our joy might be complete” (1 Jn 1:4).
Photo by Kelly Sikkema