It's a commonplace in religious life to say that why you came isn't exactly the same as why you stay.
This is largely because religious life wasn't quite what you thought it would be. But perhaps more importantly, you also find out that you weren't exactly who you thought you were. Some of this is can be a painful purification. When the honeymoons are over and first fervor is gone, afflictive emotions that arise in community life reveal to us that our attraction to religious life wasn't entirely pious and pure. We realize our mixed motivations, that our hearts are mysterious and messy fields of weeds and wheat. We can let this teach us patience with each other and humility for ourselves, or we can refuse growth and just flail around in a doomed project of trying to get our disorderly emotional needs met. But no matter which we choose, we find ourselves a different person than we were when we started.
And so, because religious life doesn't turn out to be what we had imagined, and because we become different people within it, why we came usually isn't why we stay.
I was just thinking about this stuff because someone challenged me the other day with the question, "Why do you stay?" It's a good challenge, and the response ought to be dynamic and growing, parallel to the work of grace in a vocation. So here's where I am right now:
I'm a religious because it gives me peace to know that I have disposed of my life on earth. One of my confreres in the Order likes to say that my primary desire in life is to feel 'all set.' By my perpetual profession and my vow 'to give myself to this fraternity' I feel all set. I may be living it less than adequately, but I have dealt with and disposed of my earthly life. How much time have I wasted in life already, and how poor a steward of my life have I been! Who knows how much time is left? The time to begin preparing for my death is now.
I'm a Franciscan because I am convinced that the Franciscan way is my antidote to the world. I have always been looking for an alternative to the bleak and pointless tastes and attitudes that are the given in this world. When I was eleven I thought the answer was to escape into fantasy. When I was fourteen I thought it was the alternative taste and uniform of Heavy Metal. When I was seventeen I thought it was in the uncompromising cultural critique of Punk. When I was nineteen I began to become convinced that the only coherent answer was Christianity. Soon after that I met St. Francis in a history class, and ever since then it has seemed to me that the Franciscan way has been the best way for me to be a Christian.
I'm a priest because in living my priesthood I have become convinced that the vocation to priesthood has been God's way of redeeming my particular humanity, and making me useful for his work in the world.