I have thought this frequently since returning to the Catholic church. There are many Protestants (Evangelicals, non-denominationals, etc.) who look at the Catholic church as a bunch of rules and regulations. They think Catholicism is strange with the whole "Mary thing" and the saints. Too often, they don't even try to investigate the reasons, instead choosing to believe hateful lies.
From all my years of involvement with non-Catholic churches, there seems to be an unspoken belief that Christianity is to be easy. We believe that Jesus Christ came to this world to pay the price for our sin. He died and was resurrected. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we believe and are brought into union with our Heavenly Father. We are to love God with every molecule of our being and love our neighbor as ourself. There are a few directives about church government thrown in but aside from that, it seems pretty straightforward.
Well, yes and no.
Yes, it's straightforward in how we are to live and who we are supposed to be following. But no, it's not entirely straightforward because we so often get lost. We were lost before we met God and once we've met Him through His Son, Jesus Christ, we still need some sort of track to keep us from going off the rails.
I still don't like the phrase "informed conscience" because I know how slippery I can be. I know how easy it is to justify my disobedience - which is sin. I can think my conscience is informed and make a certain decision - but how do I know this is the decision that pleases the Lord?
This is when I choose to trust the Magisterium and trust the Church Fathers. Now a non-Catholic can read that and say, "Whoa! Wait a minute! I don't need any high and mighty governing body to tell me how to live the Christian life! Who are they and what gives them the right?" Well, what do we think happened after Pentecost? Was it a free-for-all? Did all the new believers start running around going, "Gosh, I feel so good! So loving! I think I'll just wander off and meditate on the goodness of God and be nice to everyone..."
No. There was order. There was structure. There were directives.
Order is something that for some of us, is a difficult concept to accept. I think one of the reasons why it's so difficult is that it is a black and white proposition. It's kind of like the Army. There is a way to do something, then there is the Army way. I understand the need for an evolution of ideas, creativity, meaning out of chaos, etc. I am an artist, after all. I realize that sometimes things need to be messy awhile before it makes sense.
But with our Christian faith, there was order from the beginning. After much prayer, the disciples determined that certain needs had to be met (such as taking care of the widows) but the Gospel needed to be preached. Some are called to be preachers and some are called to take care of the widows. The disciples realized that for order to take root, they needed to devote themselves to much prayer and discussion as they planted those first churches. It wasn't easy. There was much persecution and suffering involved.
Which brings me back to my point. I don't think Christianity was ever supposed to be this "wow, this makes me feel so good" type of a deal. We're on this earth for a very short time and in that time, we're to be in constant communion with God, dying to self and allowing the light and glory of His Son to shine through our lives.
How does that happen when all we're worried about is how we feel? Does that help anyone else who is lost? And how do we get out of the miry muck of "self?"
This is one of the reasons why I am so grateful for the Catholic church. All of the 'extras' that our non-Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ may criticize become important (and yes, I'll say it, vital) tools in helping me get out of "self" and into Christ. Praying the rosary keeps me grounded. Attending Mass faithfully and on Holy Days keeps me grounded. Going to confession keeps me grounded. And the Eucharist, remembering what our dear Lord did and consuming Him - isn't so much a freaky experiment in metaphysics as it is a required and needful act in order to bring us Life.
Think about that life and where you get it. I can't help but say that I've never gotten it in fullness except through the Catholic church.