Paul Hurley SVD argues that limericks can convey deep truths as well as naughty innuendoes Good limericks need not be naughty. The American Catholic Society of SS Peter and Paul has published a Limerick Prayer Book, whose preface states:
These rhymes were designed by a priest, To affect your religion like yeast; If they help it to grow, Like the yeast in the dough, There'll be one better Christian at least.
There are even limericks "designed" by a bishop. The late Bishop Bernard Wall of Brentwood frankly admitted his addiction: The limerick's inferior, they say, To the poetry of Shelley or Gray; But the Bishop of X, Without wishing to vex, Composes at least one a day.
He continued this practice while attending the Second Vatican Council, where he wrote lots of limericks, like this one on married priests: They want us to alter our lives And share our good fortune with wives, With youngsters and bills, And scandals and pills, And mothers-in-law round our dives.
And speaking of pills, he had no doubt about Hun artae Vitae: Some moralists claim that the Pill May be used even though you're not ill. It gives the ability To banish fertility:
But I don't believe it:s. God's will.
Bishop Wall was even tempted to try some versions about young ladies: There was a young girl from the WACS, Who in church was given the Pax In so tight an embrace She went red in the face And flopped back in her seat to relax.
Limericks in English have been translated, often with some difficulty, into many languages and the globe has been ransacked for rhymable towns. "The best limericks," wrote Edmund Knox, Ronald's brother and one-time editor of Punch (which published thousands of them), "contain the largest amount of improbable incident or of subtle innuendo that can be crowded into the available space."
The limerick has sometimes been used to illustrate religious points in doctrine and dogma. Take, for instance, Mgr Ronald Knox's famous one about Bishop Berkeley's theory that things exist only when seen: There once was a man who said, "God Must think it exceedingly odd If He finds that this tree Continues to be When there's no one about in the Quad.
This evoked the anonymous reply: Dear Sir. Your astonishment's odd I am always about in the Quad.
And that's why the tree Will continue to be, Since observed by Yours faithfully, God.
Another religious example is also anonymous: God's Word made a perfect beginning; Man spoiled the creation by sinning. We know that the story Will end in God's glory, But at present the other side's winning!
Regarding God's Word, many may be surprised to know that an Anglican priest, Christopher Goodwins, has summarised both the Old and New Testaments in the form of limericks. Here's how he begins Genesis: If you want to know how we began The clues are in Genesis, man!
There was nothing at first Till the universe burst On infinity, as God's plan.
And this is his short version of the popular Psalm 23: The Lord is my shepherd. He leads me Beside the still waters He feeds me.
I walk without fear.
Rod and staff show He near!
The feast, at His table, soon will be.
Let us end with a prayer, by Frank McManus, for limerickers and for all of us: Precede us, 0 Lord, with Thy Grace, As we travel through Time and through Space; In all that we do, May we magnify You.
Our reward as we run the straight race.