People erroneously think the Church is confining, but the Church gives us the framework of prayer, the Gospels, the Catechism, the community, and the Sacraments and then you are more or less on your own, man. You will be surprised to find that the Church trusts that--given your intelligence, good will, and humble, contrite heart - you will be able to connect the dots. And the dots are these: You don't get to have someone hold your hand and guide you along the perilous, excruciatingly lonely path to Christ. You don't get to have someone applaud or even notice your hidden life of sacrifice and penance. You don't get to be understood, validated, and comforted every other minute. While you're being nailed to your own Cross, you get to do those things for someone else.
You'll find that if you truly want to be challenged, you will regard the abysmal ways you've fallen short in this vale of tears, and you will look at Baptism and the confessional and the Eucharist and Holy Orders and marriage and the last rites and you will see, in fear and trembling and dawning, crazy praise, This is the last thing I would have wanted and it is the only thing I have ever wanted. You will realize This is the only thing that could have pruned, in the gentlest possible way, my craving for attention, my impatience, my uber-criticism, my hyper-judgment, and that could simultaneously, while always calling me higher, have assuaged my guilt, bound up my narcissistic wounds, and invited me to overcome my seemingly bottomless cowardice and fear. Above all, this is the only thing that could fulfill my heart that, in spite of my myriad faults, overflows with love.
You will see that the Church is both the lightest yoke and the heaviest cross imaginable. You will begin to understand the meaning of the Sermon on the Mount. You will see that the biggest electric blanket of all is the desire for spiritual excellence, an Ivy League college, a high-end gym with a personal trainer; for others to view our journey to God as interesting, as special, as just a bit of a cut above the ordinary.
The follower of Christ doesn't strive. The follower of Christ surrenders. Not to mediocrity, but to love--and if ever for one second we presume to think that the love of Christ isn't sufficiently "challenging," we have only to look above the altar: to Christ, lacerated, bleeding, alone, nailed to the Cross. That is the love the priest is pointing to when he says "God is love." That is the death Christ was facing when, over the Last Supper, he told the disciples, "Love one another as I have loved you." That is the love upon which Flannery O'Connor's heart, mind, intellect and soul were focused, as she suffered from lupus, was conscripted into celibacy, wrote to a public that didn't understand her, watched her beauty, ability to walk, and life ebb away, and died at the tragically young age of 39, all without a single word of complaint, anger, or self-pity.
If we want to repent of our sins, if we want to do penance, have at it. The Catholic church is certainly not going to stop us. But here's the thing we will learn as we undergo our own Passion: the theater of Catholicism is the Mass, not us. We're not the star; Christ is. "He must increase, I must decrease." He who loses his life for my sake will find it. Some who are first shall be last, and the last shall be first. Go to your room and pray in secret and your Father will see you in secret and reward you.
Christ isn't kidding. Those are not metaphors. It is just in the putting up with the thousand day-to-day petty annoyances that sanctity consists. It is just in casting our lot with other extremely unpromising, lackluster, humdrum people that we come to see how terribly unpromising, lackluster and humdrum we are. It's just in accepting that things are never the way we want them, that we will not get the spiritual validation or guidance or friends or adulation we've imagined that we start to be saints. It is in offering ourselves up for God to do with what He wills (as opposed to what we think will make us look good) that - with multiple psycho-spiritual crises and usually over a long, LONG period of time - we are transformed.
The whole thing needs to be read.
Honest to Godness.