My cousin, an Evangelical, took a missions trip to Italy several years ago and actually visited Assisi. After he got back I was talking to him at a dinner and asked how his trip went. He told me about Assisi and remarked that in visiting, he was struck by the impiety of the physical church in the town. It seemed to be full of much that honored and praised St. Francis of Assisi and very little that focused on Christ himself. He said that everything in that church was about St. Francis. He spoke of a large mural depicting the saint and how he felt something almost evil in overlooking Christ - God - in favor of a human. Where was Christ’s even bigger mural?
I recently reflected on this interaction and realized something. For many, certainly for my cousin in his Protestant tradition, that church building seemed a complete structure, a closed system representing the Church in microcosm and outside of which nothing else existed. If this is how it represents Christianity to its visitors, isn't that wrong? That building is a church but it's really only a small part of the Catholic Church. Just as at my parish I may stand directly in front of a window to stare at its depiction of St. Michael and wonder why he should get the whole window with only a small symbol of the trinity in the corner, my cousin was looking at the Assisi church and concluding Christ was made small in Catholicism in favor of humans. No, the window is only a part of the Church, and if we look around we see other windows and, always, Christ in the center of it all. There are many windows, always existing alongside others making up the building. They are meant to be seen individually but understood collectively.
The light of the Sun is too bright to view directly. The best thing about windows is that though they can never create the celestial energy of light, they do a very good job of filtering it, making it ordered and understandable to our eyes, pleasing and sublime, magnifying and combining it in beautiful forms. And it’s only after light shines through a window that we can see the artist’s unique use of glass in capturing light. We understand light through our windows just as we understand God through the lives of each other and especially the lives of the saints. St. Francis was one of the greatest among them. Let him have his large window. It only means that more light will shine through on us.
[Comments & questions welcome. Feedback is fuel for the writer!]