One criticism of the Catholic Church is that we are too "legalistic." Catholics are expected to go to mass every week, to go to confession at least once a year or not to eat meat during Friday's in lent. That along with the sacreaments of baptism confirmation and the belief that it is through faith AND works as opposed to just faith that we are saved a person can see why someone would think Catholics are "legalistic."
Sometimes we do a pretty good job making ourselves look legalistic. If you listen to any catholic radio show where there are callers asking questions about the faith you will hear people say "does it count if . . ." And there seem to be some parents who think that their requirement for giving their child a religious education is making sure they get the sacraments. "Hey, little Jimmy is in second grade, we need to get his first communion and first reconciliation out of the way!" CHECK! or "Allision is in High School---it's time to get her confirmed. Come on Allison, you have to go to CCD class on Sunday now!" GRADUATED!!
In reality nothing can be further from the truth. The Church puts these things in place because she knows that it is through the sacraments that people receive grace which will help people through life. She puts rules in place because people DO ask questions about the "bare minimum" like "what's the latest I can be to mass for it to count?"
In this week-end's gospel, the rich young man asks Jesus what he has to do to get into Heaven. The young man says that he follows all of the commandments but Jesus says more is required. Jesus says that he must sell all of his riches and attend to the poor. Mark says that the young man went away sad because he had many possessions.
More is expected of us that attending mass every week. More is expected of us that to be a "good person." We must cooperate with God's graces and have a conversion of heart. We must become like Jesus ourselves. If we don't, we may stray and go down that wrong path.
Jesus also says that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to make it into heaven. He points out that for human beings it is impossible and ONLY through God is it possible to make it into Heaven. The Church is like our Mother. She knows what we need in order to get the graces we need to live life in eternal glory. She sounds legalistic because like a mother she tells us to eat our brussel sprouts and to clean our room.
Eating your brussel sprouts or cleaning your room isn't going to get you anywhere though. It sets a good foundation though. We must build on those. Just like we build on the graces we receive eating the Eucharist or cleaning our soul.