Give Me Sixty Seconds On the Clock Please


When I saw the headline declaring that the Columbia crew may have had as much as one minute knowing what would happen before their ship exploded, my Catholic mind sighed with relief. But this was not the response of the writer of the article, or of the world.

Why is this? Is it because I am some sort of masochistic fanatic who wants others to suffer? Or is it because the world has little idea of the importance of those last sixty seconds before we die.

Catholics have a habit of praying for a happy death. For a long time, growing up, I thought this meant a painless death — one with little suffering. But this is far from the truth. The truth is closer to what a good friend used to say: the best way to die would be on a plane you knew was going down, sitting next to a priest. In the Catholic mind, a happy death is one in which we have the opportunity to meet death with a willing heart, and a recently cleansed soul.

It is common for the loved ones of those who have died to console one another with the words that the deceased “didn’t suffer”, “went quickly” or “died in their sleep”. And in many ways these phrases can be comforting. No one wishes that a loved one would suffer. However, imagine that loved one had things in his life he regreted but had never asked for forgiveness. Or perhaps he had behaviors and habits that turned him from God and he had stubbornly held onto them.

Let’s face it, none of us is without sin, and all of us have neglected our relationship with God in some way or another. It is only in this life that we can freely turn to God and ask for healing and forgiveness. Once we have died, our fate is sealed.

We all know that we will one day die, but seldom do we have a chance to know ahead of time when that will be. Most of us imagine, or at least hope, that we will die at a ripe old age, after those final years of contented retirement during which we spent a lot of time in contemplative prayer.

However, our death could come today, tomorrow, in ten years, 30 years or... in 60 seconds. Think of the great gift of one small minute when an untimely death comes upon us. In that sixty seconds I can quickly bring to mind the ways in which I have offended God, and ask him for forgiveness. I can recite the Act of Contrition — a perfect formula for getting right with God. I can even offer my suffering, both mental and physical, in reparation for my sins or for a loved one whom I will leave behind.

Sixty seconds could be enough to get me a free pass straight to heaven, without a moment’s lingering in purgatory. Not only should we thank God when others have had those final moments, but we should pray that we, too, have the gift of time to face death willingly, and with true contrition for our sins. And perhaps a little final suffering would come in handy...but only if necessary.

Dear St. Joseph, Patron of a Happy Death, pray for us.


Carol Kennedy. "Give Me Sixty Seconds On the Clock Please." Catholic Exchange (February, 2003).

This article reprinted with permission from Catholic Exchange.


Carol Kennedy is a Catholic writer with an MA in Theology and Catechesis from Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is the former DRE for the Spiritus Sanctus Academies in Ann Arbor, MI. Carol writes from Northern California where she lives with her husband and infant daughter. You can read more of her writings at

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