“I wrote Letters from the Desert sitting on the arid dunes of the Sahara. They cost me ten years of suffering, and I love them for that. I tried to place myself naked, poor and alone, in the presence of God’s eternal majesty, totally committed to penetrating the logic of the Gospels, which is inexhaustible. I tried to imagine myself in mind and heart beyond time, to visualize the Last Day, when He the Supreme Being will come to separate the chaff from the wheat. I felt I was chaff. I could not deceive myself: I did not know what it meant to love.

In the face of Love’s judgement I felt enclosed in my own infinite and omnipotent egoism, a freshly cut log still full of sap, refusing to burn, merely smoking and sizzling.

This was why.

One evening, in the desert, I had met an old man shivering with cold. It might seem odd to call the desert cold, but cold it is: the Sahara was been defined as ‘a cold country which is extremely hot when the sun shines’. The sun had set and the old man was shivering. I had two blankets with me—indispensible for warmth on a night in the open. Giving him one meant going cold myself.

I was afraid, and I kept both blankets for myself. I did not shiver with the cold that night, but I trembled before God’s judgment on the following day.

I dreamt I had been killed in an accident, crushed by the weight under which I had gone to sleep. With my body trapped under tons of granite but still alive–very much so!—I was judged. I was declared unfit for the kingdom, and I could see why. I who had denied my brother a blanket for fear of the cold had failed to observe the commandment of God: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18). I had set greater store by my own skin than by his.

And there was more: I who, having accepted to imitate Jesus in becoming a Little Brother [of Charles de Foucauld] had received the revelation of Christ, who loved His neighbor not only as Himself but infinitely more, to death on the Cross, had failed to observe my duty as His disciple.

How could I enter the Kingdom of Love in these conditions? I was rightly judged unfit and requested to remain outside until I had mended my ways. That was how my Purgatory began.

—from Love is for Living. Carlo Caretto was a Little Brother of Jesus of Charles de Foucauld. He passed from this world in 1988.