Someone’s Gotta Do the Dishes

Michael Libunao-Macalintal '20 M.Div.

It is nearly 7 a.m. when we pull onto Rosette Street. We greet “Good morning” to the folks waiting out on the porch and walk through the front door of Amistad Catholic Worker, the house of hospitality located in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven. Amistad was established 25 years ago by Mark Colville and Luz Catarineau-Colville. They began this journey in the heart of the city as a means of bearing witness to new possibilities of justice. As Catholic Workers, Mark and Luz have dedicated their lives to serving the disadvantaged and marginalized communities in the city – establishing a haven that provides sustenance, solidarity, and a sense of safety and stability in otherwise unsettling circumstances. Ever true to Dorothy Day’s words, “Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul,” Mark and Luz have worked tirelessly to provide visitors with food for both the body and the soul. 

Every morning, we prepare, cook, and serve breakfast to 50-60 visitors. There are no checkpoints, no requirements to enter, only one’s presence. Within these walls exist the narratives of people from every walk of life, situation, and experience. Their stories and histories are embedded in every part of the house. This Catholic Worker house, a private home in a previous era, is today ever-changing and adapting to the needs of the community. What was once someone’s room became a pantry. What was once a living room became a dining room set for as many as could fit. Sometimes it has served as an altar. 

Community is at the axis of the Catholic Worker movement, reminding me that I am called to live in a different way. The usual social dynamics or divisions found between the provider and those being served do not exist here. There is no difference between those who are cooking the meals and those who are being served. Amistad is not a facility or an organization in the customary sense – it is situated in the Colvilles’ home, in the midst of New Haven. It does not turn itself away from the circumstances of people who have been pushed towards the margins. Rather it pulls and invites all of us to come closer to one another, to both bake and break bread with each other. In this place that breaks social boundaries, we are reminded of the importance of accountability. At the end of each meal, we volunteers must clean all the dishes and pots that have built up over the course of the day. This is definitely one of the least attractive parts of our job. These dishes take up most of our work. We scrub every inch of every plate, cup, utensil, bowl and pan that has been used. It’s the last thing any of us look forward to doing. But one day I came across the words of Christian activist Shane Claiborne, “Everybody wants a revolution, but nobody wants to do the dishes.” 

It was at that moment that things crystallized for me. 

I used to believe that the expectations of justice meant that every one of us needed to be on the front lines, advocating and speaking truths to the powers and systems that perpetuate injustices against the most marginalized members of society. We remember the voices of those who have spoken up, marched, and mobilized movements boldly with love and courage. However, do we remember those who work behind the scenes, the people who open their homes, prepare meals, and wash dishes at the end of the day? 

Everybody wants a revolution, but nobody wants to do the dishes. Bold acts of love and courage don’t always reach the spotlight. They might not always catch the attention of the media or go viral. They do, however, draw us closer to one another. They remind every one of us of our own beloved-ness. 

Now more than ever, in the midst of this global pandemic, it is crucial to reach out to the most vulnerable in our society; amid the uncertainties of this period, Amistad continues its commitment to its constituency. We must bear witness to the reflections of God’s love and mercy in the world, wherever they may be. 

When I wash these plates, I remember that they held food cooked by volunteers. These plates were set on a table that supports the weathered and weary hands of people who have been working hard and long throughout the day, and this table was set in a room that has carried laughter, tears, and stories of all who have entered. 

So I wash the dishes. I wash the dishes and I scrub the pots and pans, rinsing and drying them so that they can be ready the next day, ready to hold food for the body and soul. 

After graduation in May, Michael Libunao-Macalintal ’20 M.Div. hopes to pursue a career working with students, emphasizing diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice themes. He worked at Amistad in New Haven last summer.