Cinderella is the perfect parable for the kingdom of heaven

Minds wander, and mine was doing such a thing one day when it struck me that Cinderella sets forth a perfect little parable for the kingdom of heaven. Perhaps the quintessential fairytale, Cinderella has been told and re-told countless times since the 17th century. There are beautiful, masterful storybook adaptations and brilliant film adaptations (I am, of course, speaking about the 1950 and 2015 versions). It is a tale beloved across cultures and understood in varying degrees from young to old. While the simple message of goodness being ultimately rewarded is necessary and lovely and true, maybe we can uncover even more.

The story is familiar to all, so I will take the liberty of dropping us into the place in the tale where Cinderella hears the proclamation that all maidens have been invited, by the king, to a ball at the palace. Aware of the momentousness of this occasion, she is — rightfully so — eager to attend. Her villainous stepsisters put in place seemingly insurmountable barriers to Cinderella’s attendance, yet the girl bears all patiently, works diligently at the tasks that stand before her and the ball, and skillfully and creatively pieces together an ensemble fit for a visit to the palace. Sadly, her efforts are not enough. As quickly as they rose, her hopes are dashed, and she finds herself on the cinder-strewn floor, in a ravaged dress, and without any means of traveling to the dreamed-of palace.

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The story, of course, does not end here. (If it did, it likely would not have made it past the original telling.) A delightful, magnanimous woman with every ounce of maternal care and who has the magical means of obtaining precisely what it is that Cinderella needs, descends upon the scene, and bibbidi-bobbidi-boo! The poor orphan girl is off to the palace, arrayed in a stunningly elegant gown and glass slippers. You know the rest: the perfectly tidy fairytale ending in which good triumphs over evil, and the lowly girl wins the heart of the prince, who loves her with the purest love.

An invitation to the kingdom

There is a reason we return to this story over and over: At its core, it echoes the tale of the Father who invites each and every one of us to his everlasting kingdom. Just as the king in Cinderella extends the invitation to all, so, too, our heavenly Father has opened up the gates of heaven for all who choose to accept his love — even the little ones, like a cinder-covered orphan girl. Just as Cinderella did everything in her power to be able to accept this grand invitation, we, too, are invited to enter the kingdom of heaven, and we ought to lead a life of virtue so as to dispose ourselves to accept the invitation. Of course, we know that we cannot, in actuality, do any of this on our own. We, as Cinderella did, must acknowledge our weakness and inability and let our contrite tears be a plea for divine assistance. And, if our hearts are as pure and noble as Cinderella’s, such aid will come and we will, one day, be whisked away into his kingdom.

This is what St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s spirituality is all about. The great saint wrote, “Then we must number ourselves humbly with the imperfect, see ourselves as little souls which God must uphold from instant to instant. The moment He sees us convinced of our nothingness, He reaches out His hand.” We must recognize our littleness and then rejoice, for it is through this that the all-powerful Lord can work. He will carry us. He will turn our pumpkins and rags into carriages and ball gowns. He will lead us to his kingdom.

Seeking the kingdom above all else

Of course, we cannot just bank on this happening without effort on our part, nor should we throw up our hands in defeat, saying, “I’ll never be able to, so why should I try?” No, we must have the proper disposition — the disposition of Cinderella, who understood the greatness of the king, recognized her own poverty, tried to make herself fit for the kingdom anyway, was receptive to mercy, and intensely desired entrance into the kingdom. Perhaps Cinderella’s greatest virtues were not her kindness nor her patience, but her humility and her zeal! These two enabled her to receive the help of her fairy godmother and the attention of the prince.

We must strongly desire the kingdom of heaven. We must desire it above all else! Call to mind the parable of the wedding feast in the Gospel of Matthew: “Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business” (Mt 22:5). As we read or listen to this parable, we are aghast at the ignorance of these people who placed lesser things above such a wonderful invitation. They dismissed magnificence for their own disordered concerns. Yet, how often do we do this, arranging our lives without the pursuit of his kingdom as our central goal? Yes, we have floors to wash and maybe even evil stepsisters to care for, but we must go about all of our duties with the intention and hope of, one day, dancing at the eternal ball. We must say, “Lord, we long for you!” as we move about our days. We must keep our gaze toward the kingdom.

The greatest truth is that the Lord longs for us. He desires that we be in his palace. Armed with (and in awe of!) this knowledge, it is our role to set to work, preparing ourselves for him. We will fail, but we will hope in his mercy and his joy in transforming us into princesses fit for the kingdom. Like Cinderella, our feeble attempts will be metamorphosed into glory if we only desire and persist.

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