Editor’s note: In an effort to keep the piece as is, the author has permitted me to clarify the context of the sort of love referenced below, for the reader. It is unusual for men to talk about non-romantic love. He talked of a love that is rarely discussed: agape.
Agape is not only known as a love for God, but can be described as a brotherly and sisterly love. As he stated during our chat, “There is more than one kind of love in the world…[including] non-sexual love. I am all about reclaiming that love.”
He intends to have understood that “… it is a force that people should claim and use as a tool in their work.” Sasha believes this sort of love can be a powerful force for political transformation.
I love Reverend Donal Godfrey S.J. At first blush, it may seem peculiar that I am professing my love for Donal Godfrey. After all, I am a Jew, and Donal is a Catholic. I am a nurse, and Donal is a priest. I was born in the U.S., Donal was not. On the other hand, as a Jesuit, Donal has the initials “S.J.” (Society of Jesus) while my initials are also S.J. (for Sasha Jonathan). I like to think that it also represents the ideal of “social justice” which Donal and I both support.
My love for Donal is an expression of solidarity as well as affection. While I taught in the School of Nursing at the University of San Francisco, Donal was the Director of University Ministry. One day, a student asked if she could make up an examination because she was going with Donal to demonstrate outside the U.S. military’s School of the Americas. I was happy to oblige, as one of my dear friends lost her husband and brother to death squads in El Salvador. It is possible that the killers received their training at this school and I was glad that Donal was leading a non-violent protest that honors the memory of my friend’s family and the martyred Jesuits in the same small country.
I also love Donal because he made my students cry. I asked him to come speak with my students, many of whom had lost friends to the AIDS epidemic. Donal had compiled a marvelous oral history of the Most Holy Redeemer parish, in the Castro, which was at the epicenter of the outbreak. Rather than lecture, Donal suggested that we each talk about how the epidemic affected us as individuals and as nurses. Our salty tears of loving memory transcended the many differences between us at that class session.
I was really touched and honored that Donal posted a photo on social media of the two of us together, he in clerical robes, me in African garb. I came to hear Donal give a homily in honor of the late Nelson Mandela. Is this cultural appropriation? I do not think so; my intention was instead to celebrate the life of another man who fought for social justice against terrible odds. Donal and I are certainly more similar to the other than either one of us is to Nelson Mandela. Imitation may not always be the sincerest form of flattery, but at times it certainly can be.
My love of Donal is a challenge to those who may be uncomfortable with warmth and love between two men. What’s to stop me from shouting my affection from the rooftops? After all, I love both my father as well as Father Donal. Homophobia is of course part of the answer. But I think there are other reasons. Does my love for Donal mean that we agree on everything? I would hope not. Indeed, no one would question my love for my partner or my daughters yet we disagree on many things. People like Donal Godfrey will not settle for mere tolerance of superficial differences among human beings. I love Donal because he is a pragmatic idealist working to create, nurture and embrace a better world. This is not the sort of love that is born from exchanges of candy and flowers, but it makes me smile as though it were.