Marriages are Made on Earth
The Gift of My Church (#TGOMC) is a series featuring how Catholics from different walks of life have been touched by God through their service or participation in the life of the Archdiocese of Singapore. In this first of the series, Michael Cai discovers how God has healed and worked miracles for Clement Lim through the sacrament of marriage.
In a span of 20 years, Clement Lim went in and out of various prisons nine times for drug and other offences. One afternoon in 1983, he received news while in a maximum security prison that his wife of seven years had filed for divorce.
Before his fellow inmates, Clement put up a macho front and declared that he would be better off without her. That night when the lights went out in his cell, he covered his head with a blanket and cried for the first time as an adult. His loss was far more heart-wrenching than he had expected. For a man who had dominated his peers, losing his wife was something beyond his sphere of influence.
Eighteen years later, in 2001, a providential encounter with the Bible led him to the Catholic faith and a remarkable conversion experience. After he was released from a detention centre for the ninth and final time in 2002, he was baptised and went into voluntary work with the Roman Catholic Prison Ministry, helping to counsel and journey with former convicts.
To prepare him for formal prison aftercare work and to bolster his own reformation, well-wishers arranged for him to go for a holistic rehabilitation programme at the Cenacolo Community in Medjugorje, Bosnia. Known for helping former delinquents and drug addicts rediscover their talents and purpose in life, the year-long stint also helped him to calibrate his attitudes about relationships and labour.
At Changi Airport, he met Diana Low, a widow and hospital ministry volunteer, who was also travelling to Medjugorje – for a pilgrimage. In their developing fellowship, they found that they shared much in common: Cantonese language, acquaintances, altruistic work, a series of delightful coincidences and their single marital state.
After two years of courting, they tied the knot in 2004 at the Church of Saints Peter and Paul. “It was the happiest day of my life,” recalled Clement. At age 47, he had finally experienced the joy of giving – and receiving – authentic love.
“Diana accepted me totally and never once despised me because of my past.”
His wife of 13 years said: “Who am I to look down on him? I am also human, I also make mistakes.” When close friends expressed concerns about her vulnerability, she told them confidently that the marriage vows professed before the Lord would see them through.
One friend who saw them through the early years of marriage was Janet Lim, a full-time church volunteer. “Behind his colourful history, Clement was ‘born again’ in many ways, and Diana’s calm and quiet demeanour helped to facilitate his transformation,” she observed. “Their steadfast belief in the goodness of each other and steadfast faith in God, I believe, helped greatly.”
“Clement was patient and honest from the beginning, and his actions over time proved his sincerity both as a Christian and a husband,” said Diana. “The important thing for me was to continue to be genuine,” added Clement, who was by then so motivated by her trust that he conscientiously sought and pursued all kinds of honest work to support his new family.
The disciplined life in detention and the reformative Cenacolo experience in Medjugorje helped to shape him for the tough, manual jobs that awaited him. From working at a coffee shop to fixing cabinets, manicuring gardens to restoring stained glass, Clement took them up and worked faithfully, often holding two jobs at a time.
For a man who once nonchalantly spent a few thousand dollars in a single night at the cabaret, every dollar earned these days is backed by a certain moral validity that transcends its monetary value. “The money that I earn today means so much more because I really worked for it. And when I put food on the table, I feel really good,” said the multi-skilled handyman whose simple lifestyle today is a far cry from the high life of yesteryear.
“Cenacolo helped me discover the God-given talents I never knew I had. That’s why I take my work seriously – to glorify the Giver and to be honest to the one who pays me,” said the parishioner of the Church of Christ the King.
Work is like a therapeutic platform for him to exonerate his erroneous past, explained Diana. “Whenever Clement takes up a job, he makes sure he delivers 100 percent and more, even when some people take advantage of his dedication,” she said with a hint of a protective wife.
Apart from his new attitude toward work, Clement’s commitment to his marriage also showed clearly how God’s transformation has reached deep.
“Before my conversion,” remarked Clement, with a sheepish smile, “what I said goes. Now, we share views but we don’t impose.” He explained that for a dialogue to be effective, both sides need to speak with honesty and love, and not be overly sensitive.
“And always rely on the grace of God to guide your relationship,” added Diana. “Only God is perfect. Once we recognise this, we can be more forgiving about each other’s imperfections.” Clement nodded in agreement, as if to underscore the primary message of their story so far.
And this they have done faithfully for the past 13 years. As Clement looks back, he attributes the bliss to three factors: his formation at Cenacolo; regular reception of the sacraments; and Diana, the “soul mate for life” that he had asked God for one solemn night in the hills of Medjugorje.
Today, he is a free man in more ways than one. His only “conviction” now is to “celebrate my vocation to the fullest as an imperfect husband, relying on the perfect grace of God.”
The Archdiocesan Commission for the Family (ACF) is one of several organisations in the archdiocese supported by the Catholic Foundation. It was established in 2014 to serve and build marriages and families. ACF leads, supports and synergises the outreach efforts of its 13 family partners. It promotes their many programmes provided to address the pastoral needs of families in different situations in life including certain marital circumstances. A regular financial pledge to the Catholic Foundation will enable ACF to continue expanding such efforts, so that more people like Clement Lim may come to discover God and be transformed in their family life.