Marriage is Like Salt

February 05, 2023

What on earth does salt have to do with marriage? I may be out to lunch on this, but after listening to the Gospel reading at Mass today, Matthew 5:13-16, and listening to Deacon Kevin O'Shea's homily (18:57), it reminded me about the chemical nature of salt itself, and the marriage bond.

I propose that the bond between one sodium atom and one chlorine atom is similar to the bond between husband and wife.

If you recall chemistry class back in high school, you will know that the atoms of sodium (Na) and  the atoms of chlorine (Cl) combine together to form a new crystal lattice structure, known as sodium chloride (NaCl), also known as salt. 

Separately, as individual atoms, sodium and chlorine have radically different properties. Sodium is a soft, bright, silvery metal, and needs to be stored in oil because it is highly reactive and "excitable", exploding spontaneously when placed in water. Chlorine on the other hand is a greenish yellow gas that acts as an irritant, and a few breaths of it can be fatal. In liquid form, it will burn the skin.

However, when the sodium and chlorine atoms are in near proximity, the sodium atom has an "urge" to give away its single valence electron to chlorine. In fact, it fits perfectly inside the chlorine atom, which only has room for one electron to become stable. At rest, chlorine has seven valence electrons, and it can only receive one electron to become stable. The donation of sodium's electron results in an electrostatic force of attraction between the two, and bingo, a strong ionic bond is formed between them resulting in sodium chloride, i.e. salt.
sodium and chlorine form an ionic bond to create table salt (NaCl)
image taken from Wikimedia Commons

You may recall drawing these Lewis structures in high school chemistry class. 

Anyone who has studied ratios in mathematics class will also remember that a ratio refers to a relationship between numbers of the same kind, often expressed as a is to b or a:b. Both terms in a ratio are considered to make up the whole. For instance, in the salt example, we can say that there is a one to one ratio of sodium to chlorine (1 Na: 1 Cl) to make up the whole (i.e. salt).

When you think about it, it's nothing short of miraculous that when these two seemingly opposite elements unite, an entirely new product is formed. Yes, I think the formation of salt is one example of God's miracles, yet we take it for granted, consuming it every day.

This basic review of the chemistry and mathematics of sodium and chlorine tells us a lot about men and women, and humanity in general. When a man is single, he yearns to find a woman in order to "donate his electron". Women have often been heard saying "he completes me". This may have to do with her desire for "stability".  Earlier I mentioned that chlorine needs sodium's electron to become stable. At first I thought this analogy was rather amusing, but then things started getting even more interesting.

Just as sodium and chlorine combine to produce something entirely new, i.e. salt, husband and wife unite to produce something new - a child. If the bond between sodium and chlorine is ionic, then the bond between husband and wife is love (marriage is a covenant bond or relationship). In other words, the miracle of salt is a creative force just as the marital act is a procreative force.

The Catholic understanding of marriage is clear, that is, it is to be between one man and one woman "until death do us part", just as God intended for Adam and Eve. Jesus also said:
“For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery."(Matthew 19:8-9)
Unfortunately, due to original sin and the fall of man, marriages today often fail or "dissolve". When salt dissolves in water, then the ionic bonds holding the salt crystals together will break, releasing them to form individual sodium (Na+) and chlorine (Cl-) ions, floating in the water.
NaCl(s) → Na+(aq) + Cl-(aq)
Jesus also tells us to be the salt of the earth:
"You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men." (Matthew 5:13)
The Catholic Church's mission, according to Pope Benedict XVI's Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is "to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world."

So there you have it. I am inclined to believe that there is something more to salt than meets the eye. Salt is essential for all known living creatures in small quantities. It regulates water balance in the body, and the sodium ion itself is used for electrical signaling in the nervous system.

Men and women clearly complement each other, but they are designed to be joined together as husband and wife in the Holy Sacrament of Matrimony. They depend on each other, and they are responsible for the family unit, the fundamental building block of all healthy, well functioning societies. If the family unit breaks down, then societies will eventually break down too. Marriage provides a clear path for men and women to be the salt of the earth. Without salt, the world would be a very "lonely" and tasteless place!

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