The Holy Cross: A real life “Mockingjay” for Catholics

To me, the idea that ties the religious significance of this story together best is the “mockingjay.”  I find in the image of the mockingjay a clear and resounding symbol of the Cross of Jesus Christ. 

 

The popular trilogy of novels turned movies, The Hunger Games, offer more than just the entertainment of an action packed dramatic story.  In her story, Suzanne Collins touches on several meaningful, anthropological themes which resonate especially powerfully for Christian readers.  This story, though most likely through no conscious intention of its author, contains a great deal of symbolism, and offers compelling insight into the tendencies of human culture, and the attitudes and actions required in order to bring about change in a troubled world.  When viewed through the lens of Catholicism, direct correlations can be found between the social mechanisms which dominate the world of the Hunger Games, and the reality of our contemporary human nature and cultural conventions.  Furthermore, the challenges to that framework presented in this story are reminiscent of the radical social action undertaken by Jesus in his earthly ministry, and that continued work his Church is called to carry on and live out.

To me, the idea that ties the religious significance of this story together best is the “mockingjay.”  I find in the image of the mockingjay a clear and resounding symbol of the Cross of Jesus Christ.  The mockingjay is described as a bird that was first used by the Capitol as a tool of oppression against the districts.  It was used to spy on them during the war of rebellion, and thus was intended to be a tool to monger fear, distrust, and docility towards the power of the Capitol.  The district soldiers, however, realized the plan of the Capitol and found in the mockingjay the potential to turn the tables in their own favor.  The soldiers began to give the mockingjays false information, therefore not only making this tool of the Capitol useless but, in fact, using it against the Capitol.  This tactical reversal actually became a turning point in the war against the districts.  The bird began to be used by the oppressed against its designer, the oppressors.  It had been designed as an instrument of oppression, isolation, violence, and domination, but was turned into a powerful reality of survival, and a symbol of unity and resistance.  After the war, the districts adopted the image of the mockingjay as a sort of taunt against the Capitol. 

In the same way, the punishment of crucifixion was authored by the Romans as a tool to oppress the masses by instilling fear in anyone who might have thought of speaking out against them.  Crucifixion was a punishment reserved for revolutionists and traitors; those who sought to overthrow Roman authority.  In enduring his cross, though, Jesus was able to turn the tables, not only on the Romans, but on the devil himself.  What was designed as an instrument of torture and death became, through the power of God, an instrument of salvation for the world.  In passively submitting to his violent death, Jesus was able to destroy violence forever.  As Christians, we venerate the cross, and display it as a reminder of this reversal, and, like the district citizens wearing the mockingjay, we confidently say that we are no longer susceptible to the snares of death, because of our solidarity with the one who is life itself. 

Furthermore, the personification of the image of the mockingjay as Katniss herself, solidified in the second book (Katniss turned into a mockingjay on stage during the pre-games media event, and would continue embodying this image in her subsequent role in the war) is a natural development because she has truly taken on the history and practicality of the mockingjay in the minds and memory of the people of Panem.  As a former victor, she was intended by the Capitol to be an instrument for its continued oppression of the districts.  She was made a celebrity, almost deified as an attempt to perpetuate the Capitol’s violent mechanism for control.  Instead, she herself has become the focal point and leader of resistance: an instigator and author of rebellion. 

Additionally, this metamorphosis is particularly meaningful because it signifies the embodied nature of the rebel movement in the Hunger Games; the real human component of this subversion of evil.  For Christians, the cross is not just an abstract symbol for the power of good over evil, it is a reminder of the person who overcame evil.  Jesus is the one whose complete self-sacrifice culminated on the cross, and whose sacrifice continues to be effective in the eternal present.  An idea does not destroy evil, but a person, this divine and human person, does.  Jesus Christ did in history, Jesus Christ does today, and will forever.  We, as embodied persons, take part in this victory over evil when we add our humanity to his sacrifice in order to become participants, not merely spectators, in his triumph over Satan. 

In the Hunger Games story, Katniss becoming the mockingjay was not just for theatrical aesthetics, it was to signify for the rebels the need to embody the revolution.  To show that the revolution was not going to happen automatically (and that citizens in the district were not going to benefit automatically without any participation), it needed real human commitment.  And it reminded the rebels that it was more than an idea which was on their side, it was a person; a person who still lived.  Upon rescuing her from the arena, one of her fellow rebels said to Katniss, “We had to save you because you’re the mockingjay, Katniss. While you live, the revolution lives.”  At this moment in the story, Katniss finally came to embrace her identity as the mockingjay, tracing its development in her mind.  “The bird, the pin, the song, the berries, the watch, the cracker, the dress that burst into flames,” reflected Katniss, “I am the mockingjay.  The one that survived despite the Capitol’s plans.  The symbol of the rebellion.” 1  For us, Jesus proves his power to save by his Resurrection; he lives forever despite the world and Satan doing their worst.  He lives so that we, too, might live.

The power of the mockingjay was not simply based on the original historical instance of its usage by the rebel soldiers against the Capitol, but also because of its living ability to enact change.  At one point in the story, Katniss explains that mockingjay’s “pick up on other birds’ melodies, replicate them, and then transform them into something new.” 2 It is the same with the Cross of Christ.  We remember what Jesus did at Calvary, but we also realize what Jesus continues to do in history.  Remember: Jesus is a living savior, not a dead one.  When we say he is living we do not just mean he is alive somewhere far away from here in heaven, we mean he continues to be a living agent in history.  The Word of God interacts with human history, today, as he did 2000 years ago in Palestine.  Jesus makes all things new; he re-creates the human race.  In Genesis 1, the Word of God created the world; and, in John 1, the Evangelist explains to us how that same Word is recreating it in himself.  He continues to interact with our history, reshaping it, transforming our fallen world into his Kingdom.  In the Eucharist, we bring our gifts, our flawed and impoverished gifts, and he changes them into an offering that is acceptable to the Father, and efficacious in our quest for holiness.  “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21:5). 

Do we realize what statement we are making when we wear the cross?  Do we truly realize who we are identifying with, and what radical actions and sacrifices are necessary if we truly want to be people who take up the Cross.  Sometimes people get very casual about the cross, and wear it, or display it, simply as something nice, warm, and fuzzy… as something trendy and popular.  Make no mistake, by taking the body of Christ off the crucifix, making it an empty cross, is one way people have tried to make it less shocking. The image of Christ on the cross is not something warm, fuzzy, trendy, or popular. 

A similar thing happened in the Hunger Games story: the mockingjay image became fashionable in the Capitol!  Someone remarked to Katniss, “Everyone wants to wear the winner’s token.” 3 As their “winner,” Katniss had become an idolized celebrity to them, even though their beliefs, and way of life, was in complete opposition to hers.  They were not identifying with the real Katniss, they were identifying with the idea of Katniss which they had created and sustained. 

Do we do this with Jesus?  Does everybody want to wear the token of our winner without really identifying with, and embracing, the person of Christ?  We need to be better evangelists who share the good news of the cross with our culture, and even with our Church.  The character, Plutarch Heavensbee, the head gamemaker of the hunger games, knew the meaning and power of the mockingjay, so he displayed one secretly—a specially designed watch with a disappearing mockingjay image. 4 The real rebels wore the image secretly, while the clueless citizens of the Capitol wore them outwardly.  Katniss reflected that: “In the Capitol, the mockingjay is still a fun reminder of an especially exciting hunger games.  What else could it be?  Real rebels don’t put a secret symbol on something as durable as jewelry.  They put it on a wafer of bread that can be eaten in a second if necessary.” 5 I suppose this could be considered as yet another way the cross of Christ is subversive—people spread its message even subconsciously. 

I wonder what would have happened in the story when Capitol citizens began to realize what their mockingjays meant.  Would they have immediately gotten rid of them, and stopped displaying them?  Or maybe they would have thought twice about its meaning, and considered embracing what it truly meant.  Imagine what would happen if everyone who displayed a cross in their home, or on a t-shirt, or jewelry, or a car sticker, would face this same shocking realization… What would they do?

  1. Catching Fire  by Suzanne Collins,  (New York: Scholastic, 2009)
  2. Ibid., 92.
  3. Ibid., 78.
  4. Ibid., 83.
  5. Ibid., 190.
Bookmark and Share
avatar About Dusty Gates

A former arena football player, Dusty currently serves as the director of adult education at the Spiritual Life Center, and as an adjunct professor of theology at Newman University in Wichita, Kansas, where he resides with his wife and two children.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] – Patrick Archbold Pope Francis’ Magic Mix Transforming Papacy – BigPulpit.com The Holy Cross: A real life “Mockingjay” for Catholics – Dusty Gates, H&PR Looking for the GOD & CAESAR news website, click here. For the [...]

  2. [...] had an article published by the pastoral magazine, Homiletic & Pastoral Review. In the article, “The Holy Cross: A Real Life “Mockingjay” for Catholics,” Gates makes connections between the popular Hunger Games trilogy and the Catholic faith. In his [...]

NeverWinter Astral Diamonds