I learned of the passing of Steve Jobs the way so many others did: on my iPhone. My wife and I were having dinner at one of our favorite restaurants on the evening of October 5, 2011, the day that the November issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture (the monthly magazine of which I am executive editor) went to press. The fact that we were enjoying good food under a starlit sky on this beautiful Indian summer evening was, in its own way, a tribute to the genius of the man who had revolutionized the print publishing industry over the past quarter of a century—something for which Jobs was rarely given credit, but which I had discussed in my column "Success(ion)" in the October issue of Chronicles, written the day after Jobs announced his retirement as Apple's CEO.
My iPhone made an unusual sound, and almost instinctively I pulled it from my shirt pocket. The Drudge Report app had sent a push notification: "Steve Jobs Is Dead." I unlocked the iPhone, and an iconic picture of Jobs (was there ever any other kind?) filled the screen. I handed my iPhone to my wife, though I barely registered her response. The rest of the dinner was a blur, in more ways than one.
Back in August, when Steve Jobs announced his retirement, I wrote a post for the About.com Catholicism GuideSite entitled "A Catholic Looks at Steve Jobs." Despite the fact that I had intended the piece as a clear expression of the admiration I've felt for decades for this man whose passion and dedication had changed my life, and that of my family, coworkers, and friends, for the better, some readers were upset with what I wrote. They thought it unnecessary to mention that others have asked me how I could admire a man who held certain political and moral views that were at odds with Catholic teaching.
Yet for me, this was consistent with the reasons I so admired Steve Jobs. Jobs was not a politician; he didn't adopt his views because they were convenient, or adapt them because of public pressure. He knew what he believed, and why he believed it, and that was enough. That I think he was truly and sincerely wrong in some of those beliefs does not change the fact that every Catholic could learn something from Steve Jobs about what it means to stand up for what you believe in.
And we can learn, too, something about how we should live our lives. Many tributes to Steve Jobs written in the hours since his death have mentioned his 2005 commencement address at Stanford. Of all of his public appearances, that address may have been the one that most fully offered a glimpse into the inner life of Steve Jobs:
When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been no for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
At the very moment in history when all too many Catholics have abandoned the traditional Christian wisdom that the remembrance of death is the best way to prepare ourselves for it—and thus the best way to live our lives to the fullest—a professed Buddhist reminded us of something we should have known all along. As Christians, we have no reason to fear death, so long as we live our lives united to the Cross of Christ. Rather than shunning death, pushing it to the margins of our consciousness, avoiding its ubiquitous presence in our lives, we should embrace it—not, of course, in a life-destroying way, but in a life-affirming one. "O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:55).Or, as Steven Paul Jobs—who was baptized a Christian and confirmed in the very Pauline Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod long before he discovered Buddhism—told the graduating class at Stanford:
Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. . . .
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life.
Too many Christians today think of death only as a punishment. Yes, death entered the world through Adam's sin; man was not meant to die. But the Fathers of the Church, especially the Eastern Fathers, saw death not only as punishment but as a gift. They understood Romans 6:23 in a way that all too many Christians today cannot comprehend: "For the wages of sin is death. But the grace of God, life everlasting, in Christ Jesus our Lord." Death is the gateway to eternal life. It is the door through which we who know, love, and serve God in this world must walk in order to be happy with Him in the next.
Had God allowed man to live forever after Adam had eaten of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, life on earth, the Fathers said, would have become a living hell. Death frees us from that possibility, and Christ frees us from death. The remembrance of death reminds us that the only thing we have to lose is our immortal soul. Take up your cross, and follow Christ, and everything else will take care of itself.
Steve Jobs' Stanford commencement address does not read like a Buddhist manifesto. There is something about it that, if not intentionally Christian, is at least consonant with the best of Christian teaching. I like to think that, when Jobs was composing it, the lessons of his Lutheran catechism kept bubbling up in his mind.
And any Christian whose life has been touched by the technology that Steve Jobs brought into the world will in charity also hope and pray that those same lessons came to mind yesterday, as he approached the final moments of his earthly life, surrounded by his beloved family and the guardian angel who never abandoned him even when he sought a different path.
May God grant Steven Paul Jobs blessed repose and eternal memory.
More on Steve Jobs and Apple:
- A Catholic Looks at Steve Jobs
- Selling Your Soul for an iPhone?
- Are Macs Catholic?
- Why 2009 Will Be Like 1984
- A Saint He Ain't
- Pope2You.net: The Vatican Gets Hip
- Best Catholic iPhone App - 2011 Catholicism Readers' Choice Awards Winners
- Best Catholic iPad App - 2011 Catholicism Readers' Choice Awards Winners
- Pope Benedict: Twitter User
Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveils the iPad 2 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on March 2, 2011, in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)