The idea of joining the Catholic church has proved itself to be more of a challenge to my faith than being a member of Protestantism ever was. At that, I should just throw in the towel & walk away. Then I would surely be embraced by my Protestant brothers & sisters without suspicion. Then I could go back to living a guilt free life & rest assured of heaven's blessings here on earth & for eternity. But truly, in my mind's eye, that seems like prison. I'm sure Protestants would see it the other way however.
The challenge doesn't have so much to do with strange new beliefs & rituals (because honestly, they aren't really all that strange). Its the practice of these rituals that presents the conflict. And it's not the rituals themselves, but the things they produce in the life of the believer. I don't imagine "cultural Catholics" struggle with this sort of problem, but I bet there are a few faithful out there who truly strive to live their faith in word & deed. Something clearly sets them apart.
The challenge of the church is the necessity of submission. Its the discipline to adhere to certain beliefs & rituals in the face of persecution. That persecution can come from within ourselves as well as from the outside world. Words like submission & discipline seem 'sticky' for Protestants in particular. They're archaic & binding. They squelch individual freedom & creativity. But have we forgotten these things can also be a help to us? Why teach children to submit to authority? Why teach them to be disciplined in their thoughts & actions? Because its the wise thing to do. If they learn to respect themselves & others, it can help them get through school, hold down jobs, raise families & become active members of society. Most adults know this. But the children have to understand in some way why they need it in their lives. In the same way, we're called to gain understanding as to why we need submission & discipline as it pertains to our respective beliefs.
As a child, I lacked discipline. I never really understood what was in it for me until I got older. As I approach the Catholic church, I see that a disciplined faith can actually afford me greater freedom. There's so much more to it than meets the eye. While the practice of ritual is not meaningless or dull, it can, admittedly, be binding. When I contemplate its purpose & meaning, it puts a plumbline to my wall, calls me into further submission to Christ & reminds me that I am not my own. The challenge of the church, yes, Protestant & Catholic alike, is to be bound to the building code of Christ.