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Editor’s note: This is an edited homily at the Requiem Mass for Tony Sirico, who played “Pauly Walnuts” on HBO’s “The Sopranos,” on July 13, 2022, at the Basilica of Regina Pacis in Brooklyn, New York. It is based on On the account of St. Luke (23:39-43) on the crucifixion of Jesus.

I need not rehearse the details of my brother’s life—the great change in his trajectory since he was a child that led to his success as an adult.

Besides, it is not the priest’s role to eulogize the deceased at a funeral. My role, which I take as seriously as Tony does in his acting, is to convey to you the love of God that comes to us in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in the face of death. Death is not the last word in the Christian vocabulary – life is – eternal life, into which my brother has now passed.

Nor is it my role to endorse my brother. For that, I have to refer you to a higher authority.

I can tell you some dimensions of this man’s complicated life that you may not be aware of and may make some connections that you may have overlooked.

Tony Sirico, ‘The Sopranos’ Actor, Dies at 79

Rev.  Robert Sirico and Tony Sirico at the 2015 dinner

Rev. Robert Sirico and Tony Sirico at the 2015 dinner
(Rev. Robert Sirico)

The most obvious thing about my brother is his rough, tough exterior. I liken it to good, Italian bread.

There were many reasons for that intense courage, but suffice it to say that it was for protection.

As many professional actors know, people often confuse acting with acting. But when you looked beneath Tony’s “protective armor” — as his friend and colleague Michael Imperioli called it on the spot — you began to see a softer, gentler interior.

Some of the decisions he made—especially early in his life, and the roles he came to play in his professional career—would surprise many to hear that my brother had morals. Let me illustrate this with a story.

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 09: Michael Imperioli and Tony Sirico attend "The Sopranos" 20th Anniversary Panel Discussion at SVA Theater on January 09, 2019 in New York City.  (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

NEW YORK, NY – JANUARY 09: Michael Imperioli and Tony Sirico attend “The Sopranos” 20th Anniversary Panel Discussion at SVA Theater on January 09, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)
(Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

I celebrated my first mass as a priest in this church in 1989 because my parents were married here and my father was buried here. My mother will also be buried in this church.

As you may know, a priest’s first Mass—especially an Italian-American priest—is celebrated like a wedding, and at a festive gathering, with friends and family invited to the Mass.

I was talking to Tony at that reception when a relative crossed the dance floor to talk to him. “Junior”—as the family called him—”was your brother’s first Mass today,” she said accusingly.

“Yeah. What about him?”

“You have not received communion.”

“Aunt Irene, I didn’t go to confession.”

I turned to him and said: “Junior, you’re the last bad Catholic in America. Everyone else thinks they deserve it.”

At that moment, I recognized my brother for his imperfection and saw the need for preparation and confession before meeting the Holy One. This was my brother’s salvation.

Tony Sirico during The Sopranos Cast Press Conference and Photocall at the Atlantic City Hilton - March 25, 2006 at the Atlantic City Hilton in Atlantic City, New Jersey, United States.  (Photo by Tom Briglia/FilmMagic)

Tony Sirico during The Sopranos Cast Press Conference and Photocall at the Atlantic City Hilton – March 25, 2006 at the Atlantic City Hilton in Atlantic City, New Jersey, United States. (Photo by Tom Briglia/FilmMagic)
(Photo by Tom Briglia/FilmMagic)

I know many today feel that the confession of sin or guilt or shame over wrongdoing diminishes human dignity. I think, instead, it lays a solid foundation under our dignity because it reinforces our integrity.

The Gospels describe our Lord’s death on the cross as being crucified between two criminals. Jesus was “numbered among the wicked.” Jesus was often among sinners.

Golgotha ​​was an abandoned quarry. And in a way, those two villains on either side of Jesus, represent all of us—all of humanity—in our ability to either deny our failings and rage against those who expose them to us; or to ask for forgiveness.

Surrounded by hatred on that hill, among the last words Christ spoke were words of forgiveness: “Father, forgive them.”

This was not a cheap apology he was giving. Finally, our Lord had to give His life.

Tony Sirico, best known as Paul 'Pauly Walnuts' Gualtieri on 'The Sopranos', died on July 8 at the age of 79.

Tony Sirico, best known as Paul ‘Pauly Walnuts’ Gualtieri on ‘The Sopranos’, died on July 8 at the age of 79.
(Photo by Mike Pont/WireImage)

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A few weeks ago, I last saw my brother in Florida where he lived close to his faithful daughter, Joanne, who was tending to his every need in his final days. I sensed the end was coming, so we sat down in a private place, I stole a confession from my pocket, I looked him in the eye and I said, “What about those confessions?”

My brother agreed and I did one of the most important things a priest could ever do for another human being. I freed him from his sins – from all his sins.

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The “good thief” of whom I spoke is said to have “stole heaven” in the last moments of his life. He didn’t deny his guilt – he admitted it. He did not obfuscate or obfuscate. He simply said: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answered: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

My friends, if poly walnuts can steal heaven, so can you and I.

Click here to read more from REV. Robert Sirico