A Map of Life by Frank Sheed

My summary notes from Frank Sheed's A Map of Life:

(Click here) for a free Map of Life Study Guide with questions.


Life is like travelling through a strange country. Just as we need a map of any strange country to see the whole country clearly, so we need a map of life to see our whole lives clearly. In this book, Frank Sheed proposes to outline the “map of life” that God — the most trustworthy of map-makers — has revealed to us through His Catholic Church. The map of life is a transcript of what God, the Author of life, has revealed as to the meaning of life, what is important, how it is all connected, according to the Church He founded (7-8). This book is concerned with Catholic doctrine from a special point of view, the view of a map-maker (75). Frank Sheed hopes that by outlining this map, we may find where we stand on the map and the best way to reach the end of the map: Heaven.

Ch.1: The Problem of Life’s Purpose

The problem of life’s purpose is that, apart from God’s revelation, it is impossible to know with certainty life’s purpose (a scientist can tell us what our bodies are made of but only our Maker can tell us what we are made for). Once we grasp this revelation from God, we can then determine whether anything is good or bad, whether it helps or hinders us from achieving our true purpose.

Just as you cannot know truly (1) what anything is and (2) cannot use anything aright until you know what it is for – until you find out from its maker, so with man, we cannot know truly (1) who he is and (2) his purpose in life, apart from our Maker.

Chapter 2: The Problem of Life’s Laws

Man lives in a world of laws – both material laws (ie. laws that govern the body like gravity) and spiritual laws (ie. laws that govern the soul like morality).

“God, the Author alike of the laws that govern matter and the laws that govern spirit, has left man very largely to discover – with an endless accompaniment of disaster – the laws that govern matter, as though the discovery of these were a trivial thing, not vital; but has revealed to man the laws that govern spirit because they are essential laws, whose breach is fraught with eternal catastrophe” (23).

We cannot choose nor change these laws. Instead, we must discover them and live obediently to them.

Freedom in life involves not freedom from these laws but rather freedom within these laws (true freedom: doing what we like = liking what we ought to do).

Just as rebellion against material laws leads to damage and destruction of the body (eg. jump off a building to be free from law of gravity = possible physical death), rebellion against spiritual laws leads to damage and destruction of the soul (eg. stop going to Mass to be free from the Sunday obligation = possible spiritual death).

Chapter 3: Heaven

The “map of life” is the map of a road that leads to heaven.

“Heaven consists in perfect happiness… the happiness which comes from the soul always results from a proper functioning of a faculty. The intellect knows truth and is happy in the knowledge: the will loves goodness and is happy in the love. The soul of man sees and rejoices in beauty. In heaven, all this is carried to its very highest point… an absolute ecstasy of happiness” (31).

In order to reach this place of perfect happiness where the whole soul is functioning at its very highest in the attainment of truth, goodness, and beauty, man needs to acquire and retain Supernatural Life. Therefore, heaven is not just the reward for a good life (eg. a gift card for highest math grade) but the result of a good life (eg. entrance into a more advanced math class).

Just as we cannot live on the moon without the proper physical equipment (eg. breathing apparatus), so we cannot live in heaven without the proper spiritual equipment (eg. Supernatural Life).

Our life will be a success if, at the moment of death, we have in our soul the life above our nature, the Supernatural Life. It will be a failure if, at death, we have not the Supernatural Life (35).

Since the possession of Supernatural Life is necessary to reach our destination, every single thing that happens to man is good or bad only in relation to whether it helps or hinders the Supernatural Life:

“It will be seen how every single thing that happens to man has its bearing on this Supernatural Life and is a good thing or a bad thing depending on whether it helps it or hinders it. Every single doctrine of the Catholic Church is bound up with this, and every single practice of the Catholic Church is concerned with this and with nothing else, and apart from this, has no meaning” (35).

Chapter 4: The Creation and Fall

The road on the “map of life” can seem strange, arduous and almost incomprehensible because it is not the first road that God laid down for us.

In the beginning, God made a simple road for Adam (2 parts: entry into life @ one end & Heaven @ the other) and gave him the three things necessary (twofold Truth of purpose and laws and Supernatural Life) to attain heaven. Through the sin of disobedience under the influence of the devil, Adam wrecked God’s road (death became a roadblock on the map to Heaven), lost Supernatural Life and slowly frittered away the Truth.

To solve this problem, God built a new road for the human race (and made a threefold restoration of truth, law, and life).

Chapter 5: The Incarnation

The Incarnation is God’s answer to man’s need. The human race had lost the way, because they had lost the Life, without which the way cannot be followed, and the truth, without which the way cannot even be known. To such a world Christ, who had come to make all things new, said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” As God-made-man, Christ restored the way (re-opened heaven) through His atonement thereby giving back Supernatural Life, fully revealed the twofold Truth of man’s purpose (to love God and neighbour) and the laws by which man must live (from external actions to internal love).

Person answers “who” (one who acts) and nature answers “what” (decides the persons sphere of action). Jesus Christ is one person – God – with two natures – divine and human. Therefore, Christ was able to fulfill in his human nature the requirement of a human act of atonement for the human act of rebellion, yet because He is God, His acts take on infinite value and thus fulfilled the necessary reparation.

Chapter 6: The Mystical Body of Christ

The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. As the Head of the Body, Christ perfectly transmits the Truth, Law, and Life to His Church. As the cells of His Body, we must cooperate with the Truth and Law revealed (through exercising our free wills) to fully live the Supernatural Life of the Mystical Body. 

“To be in the Way we must be in Him; to possess the Truth we must possess Him; to have the Life in us, He must live in us” (63).

Chapter 7: Truth: The Teaching Church

Christ gave to his Church, in the person of its first officials, the apostles, a mass of truth concerning God and man that has been passed on throughout the centuries. Some of it, by the inspiration of God, was written down (the Bible) and some of it has developed by seeing further truths as the Church thinks about, meditates on, prays by, and lives out the truth. With the body of bishops and the Pope at their head, the teaching Church progresses by the ordinary work of men’s minds and the overruling protection of God (infallibility) in matters of faith and morals.

Chapter 8: Truth: The Mystery of the Trinity

The mystery of the Trinity, like all mysteries, is not a truth of which we cannot know anything but a truth of which we cannot know everything.  

The doctrine that in the unity of the Godhead there are 3 Persons truly distinct who each possess the 1 divine nature in totality is the supreme mystery revealed by Christ because it deals with the highest truth and it is the most inaccesible to the created mind. 

God the Father eternally “generates” God the Son by an act of the divine intellect and their mutual love “proceeds” as the Holy Spirit by an act of the divine will. Although God acts upon creatures in his unity, rather than in his Trinity, God has given us warrant to “appropriate” certain actions to one or other of the 3 Persons: the Father creates, the Son redeems, the Holy Spirit sanctifies.

Chapter 9: Law and Sin

God established laws for the guidance of man’s actions to fulfill the twofold duty of man to love God and love neighbour. Although God has given man a conscience – the practical moral judgment of the intellect – to determine the right course of action, due to sin – which is a breaking of God’s law – our judgments can be wrong. Therefore, God established laws – or “Maker’s instructions” – to direct us in the right use of ourselves.

“The sinner, as it were, stands up in the hand of God, sustained in being by that all-powerful hand, defying God, but in his very defiance using the power God has lent him and that God could at any moment withdraw from him” (98).

To go counter to God’s laws in “self-expression” is certainly not an expression of the self, for God, who made the self, has declared that such action is contrary to its nature. So a man who commits a sin becomes less of a man, just as a motor car, whose engine has been used in violation of its maker’s instructions, is less of a motor car.

Chapter 10: Law and Suffering

Since human life is a preparing for the life of heaven, the soul must conquer the body through suffering and bring it into full obedience to God’s law. This resistance to sin nearly always involves some degree of suffering — which can immensely enrich the soul through voluntary acceptance and even voluntary infliction (like the saints).

“But to go further – as the saints have done and many who are less than saints – and to inflict suffering upon oneself – that is the supreme triumph over human weakness: for it is a positive going out to seek what other men flee from – with the purpose to subdue the body to the soul and also to make up what is lacking in the body of Christ (Col 1:24)” (107).

Chapter 11: The Supernatural Life

Since man’s destiny is above his nature, he must receive Supernatural Life to reach his destiny. The channels by which Supernatural Life come to the soul are prayer and the sacraments. In prayer, man approaches God. In the sacraments, God approaches man. Both culminate in the Mass.

All other sacraments draw their efficacy from their relation to the central sacrament, the Blessed Eucharist. And this is not a mere chance. Prayer and the sacraments are both means of life. In prayer, man approaches God. In the sacraments, God approaches man. Both of these culminate in the same point. For the highest prayer is the Mass, and the highest sacrament is the Eucharist. Thus at the point where man’s approach to God reaches to its uttermost intensity, God’s response is at its most measureless richness (120).

Chapter 12: The Supernatural Life:How it Works in the Soul

The possession of Supernatural Life:

  1. Gives us access to God by 3 paths — faith, hope, charity — all of them totally above the natural powers of our soul.
  2. Enables man to perform actions that will merit a supernatural reward (heaven).
  3. Makes man’s soul fit for the life of heaven.
  4. Makes men sons of God.

“The whole purpose of man’s life upon earth might be stated as the obtaining, preserving, and increasing of this life of grace in his soul” (131).

Natural life of man’s soul:    

Faculty         Action             Object         Supreme Object

(1) Intellect… to know…   truth…….  God

(2) Will…         to love…     goodness… God

Supernatural Life of man’s soul:

Faculty                 Virtue            Action                       Object  

(1) Intellect…    faith….                to believe…….         God

(2) Will…           hope & charity… to hope & to love… God

Chapter 13: Hell

“The ending of our life upon earth will find us either with the Supernatural Life, with our wills united to God, or without the Supernatural Life, with our wills set away from God. The one state means heaven, the other hell” (137).

“The mystery in the fact of hell is not a mystery of God’s cruelty; it is a mystery of the human will with its possibility of fixing itself in evil” (140).

Chapter 14: Purgatory: Heaven

Purgatory is a place where, by God’s mercy, cleansing and compensating suffering is undergone to satisfy the debt of justice for either venial sin not repented or of mortal sin repented of but not sufficiently.

Heaven is a place of perfect, indescribable and unimaginable happiness where we shall know God directly in the Beatific Vision and live in perfect relationship with God and all other lovers of God.

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