Little House on a Hill

The phone call surprised me. A woman said, “Hello, I’m Carol, your fifth cousin. Today, I got an email from Helmut Hater who lives in Germany. He is a relative previously unknown to me. In the email he said that he has traced the Hater family’s written ancestry back to 1300 AD.”

After this initial contact, I corresponded with Helmut. He told me the story of our ancestors who worked for a Lord during feudal times and how the Hater land may have been in the family back as far as the time of Christ. He said that our name, “Hater” in old German, originally was “Ter Hat,” meaning a “little house on a hill”. The little house referred to stood until the 20th Century on 11 acres. Here, our ancestors lived for over 600 years. Imagine living in the same house for this long? Who lived there? What were these farmers like? How was it to till the land and work in the feudal castle all these years? In the midst of their joys and sorrows, the family remained faithful Catholics even through the Protestant Revolution.

After learning about our ancestors, a feeling of immense gratitude came over me. I imagined their sweat and labor, joy and happiness, endured through births, deaths, persecutions, plagues, and hard times. Thinking of them humbled me, as I realized that I exist because of their efforts and God’s divine providence.

Reflecting on those who went before us and lived in this little house, I imagined their role in the Communion of Saints. Being born, growing up, and achieving salvation is never an individual project. It’s a community affair, beginning in the family and supported by the Church. It involves thousands of people—past, present, and future.

In a sense, each of us lives in a little house on a hill. Regardless of its size or location, it’s the place that we call home. It’s the place where we are free, where we love and cry and laugh with those whom we love. We are here today because numerous unknown relatives did the same. While carrying on their legacy, we remember them and look forward to thanking them some day in Heaven. 

Order Fr. Hater’s new book, Common Sense Catechesis: Lessons from the Past, Road Map for the Future.