God waits for everyone, even the worst sinner who repents only with his dying breath, Pope Francis said.
“Before God, we present ourselves with empty hands,” he said, meaning that all the good works people have or haven’t done throughout their lives aren’t measured to determine entry into heaven.
“A word of humble repentance was enough to touch Jesus’ heart” and to make him promise eternal life in heaven even to a poor criminal, he said Oct. 25 during his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square.
A curious fact, he said, is that the word “paradise” appears just once in the Gospels; it is used when Jesus from the cross promises the thief executed with him that “today you will be with me in paradise.” The “good thief,” the pope said, had the courage to recognize his sins and humbly ask Jesus, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
“It is there, on Calvary, that Jesus has his last encounter with a sinner, to open to him, too, the gates to his kingdom,” the pope said.
The good thief had done no good works in his life and had nothing to show Jesus that he had earned or was worthy of heaven, he said. “But he trusted in Jesus, whom he recognized as someone innocent, good.”
The miracle of forgiveness is repeated continually, especially in hospital rooms and prison cells, the pope said, because “there is no person, no matter how badly he has lived, who is left with only desperation and is denied grace.”
“God is father and he awaits our return up to the last moment,” he said.