Love is closely identified with God in the New Testament. Saint Paul is cited, and it’s good to recall he’s not preaching on married love, but love within the community of the faithful. But even if one interprets 1 Corinthians 13 in terms of married love, I suppose there’s the marriage metaphor to consider.
Going on, one can therefore say that the love for the son the love that springs from the very essence of fatherhood, in a way obliges the father to be concerned about his son’s dignity. This concern is the measure of his love, the love of which Saint Paul was to write: “Love is patient and kind.. .love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful…but rejoices in the right…hopes all things, endures all things” and “love never ends.”(1 Cor. 13:4-8) Mercy – as Christ has presented it in the parable of the prodigal son – has the interior form of the love that in the New Testament is called agape. This love is able to reach down to every prodigal (child), to every human misery, and above all to every form of moral misery, to sin. When this happens, the person who is the object of mercy does not feel humiliated, but rather found again and “restored to value.” The father first and foremost expresses to him his joy that he has been “found again” and that he has “returned to life. This joy indicates a good that has remained intact: even if he is a prodigal, a son does not cease to be truly his father’s son; it also indicates a good that has been found again, which in the case of the prodigal son was his return to the truth about himself.
One thing I notice here is the idea of the absence of humiliation. Many times, human beings will accept reunion and restoration. But sometimes it is hard to refrain from the small hints that remind the returnee she or he is something a bit less than before.
Dives in Misericordia, the second encyclical of Pope John Paul II, is available online here, and is copyright © 1980 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana