"Paradise is not a fairy tale, nor is it an enchanted garden. Paradise is an embrace with God, (who is) infinite Love, and we enter thanks to Jesus, who died on the cross for us," the Pope said Oct. 25.
"Where there is Jesus, there is mercy and happiness; without Him there is the cold and darkness," he said, explaining that at the hour of death, "the Christian repeats to Jesus: 'Remember me.' And even if there is no one who remembers us, Jesus is there, beside us."
Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims during his general audience, which he announced would conclude his year-long catechesis on Christian hope. He dedicated his address to a reflection on heaven, which is the ultimate "goal of our hope."
He recalled, for example, the scene at Calvary, when Jesus was hanging on the cross between two criminals, and one, whom we call the "good thief," had the courage to make the most humble request: "Remember me when you enter into your kingdom."
The thief didn't have good deeds to bring before the Lord, but he relied on the mercy of Jesus, recognizing that Jesus was "innocent, good, and so different from him," the Pope said.
"That word of humble repentance was enough to touch the heart of Jesus," the Pope said, noting that Jesus' response - "today you will be with me in paradise" - is the only time the word "paradise" appears in the Gospels.
In this episode, "the good thief reminds us of our true condition before God: that we are His children, that He has compassion for us, that He is disarmed every time we show him the nostalgia of his love."
Pope Francis said that Jesus' words of hope to the good thief also give us hope for the end of our own lives.
Even when someone is on their deathbed and makes a final examination of conscience only to realize how many opportunities for good works they have missed, "they must not be discouraged, but trust in the mercy of God," he said.
There is no person, no matter how bad, that cannot receive the grace of God, he said, adding that Jesus "wants to bring us to the most beautiful place that exists. He wants to bring us there with the little or great good that has been in our lives, because nothing is lost" that has been redeemed by him.
Jesus will carry everything still in need of redemption to his father, Pope Francis said, including the faults and mistakes of an entire life, because "this is the goal of our existence: that everything is done and transformed into love."
If we believe this, we don't have to fear death, but can instead repeat the words of Simeon, who finally meets Jesus after a lifetime of waiting, and says: "Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation."
"And at that moment, at last, we will no longer need anything, we will not see in a vague way," he said. "We will no longer weep unnecessarily, because everything has passed; even prophecies, even knowledge. But love no, that remains. Because 'love has no end'."
At the end of the audience, the Pope reminded those present that the month of October is also the month of the Rosary, and offered a special reflection in this regard to young people, the sick, and newly married couples.
Speaking to youth in particular, Francis said "you know this Marian prayer is an occasion for you, dear young people, to penetrate more deeply the mysteries of Christ working in your life."
And to the sick, he said: "Love the Rosary... because it gives consolation and meaning to your suffering." To spouses, he noted that the rosary "becomes for you, dear new spouses, an occasion to experience that spiritual intimacy with God who establishes a new family."