As for his notion of sanctity, it was coloured by the penitential lives of the early fathers where fasting, penance and long hours spent in prayers were the order of the day …. and night. Van was striving for sanctity, but such images were at odds with his unusually sensitive soul.
One of Van’s great regrets was that during his formative years none of his teachers at Huu-Bang ever spoke about God’s love. Even as a very young boy, as he highlighted on the occasion of his thanksgiving after his first holy communion, he was forced to recite formulaic prayers, when all he wanted to do was to pour out his feelings to the Child Jesus he had just received into his soul.
And along came Thérèse!… Her “Story of a Soul” and the joyful message of the spiritual way it described, coincided so completely with his spiritual yearnings. From opening the first pages of the book his eyes were filled with tears of joy at the message which unfolded before them, and his reading was interrupted from time to time, as his tears fell on the pages and made them temporarily undecipherable! From that day he decided to follow along the path she was describing. He understood that he could become holy by following in her footsteps. ” I can become holy by means of all my little actions: a smile, a word, a look, provided that all are motivated by love.” (Autobiography p.228.) Henceforth, sanctity would frighten him no longer.
A few days later, still in a state bordering on ecstasy, he went to climb the hills nearby. He was so full of joy he could hardly contain himself. As he lay on a rock, trying to regain some kind of composure, he heard a lady’s voice: “Van, Van, my dear little brother! ” Having reassured him that it was she, Therese proceeded to give Van a master class on the love of God and the way of spiritual childhood. Van was enraptured by her words, whilst commenting to himself on the excellence of her Vietnamese accent!
Thus began an extraordinary and beautiful relationship with Van, during which Thérèse taught him, teased him, encouraged him and cajoled him and generally behaved like the most caring ” big sister”.