There’s no use getting caught up on words. Words are just signs that point to the reality.
But the reality, as I understand it from throwing myself quite foolishly into the writings of Saint John of the Cross, is this.
In meditation, we do some mental work. We might, for example, read the Gospel. Then we might think on the Gospel, maybe write some lines about it or form some thoughts about it with regards to what God is saying to us. What practices of meditation we do depends on our state of life, our experiences, and the ideas and people God has made us familiar with. They are just whatever “works” for us or “appeals” to us. For example, Charles de Foucauld was constantly drawn to the Gospel. Both he and Thérèse composed meditations while sitting before the Eucharist. Saint Damiaan spoke in the honest and perturbing way of a saint:
I confess to you, my dear brother, the cemetery and the hut of the dying are my best meditation books, as well as for the benefit of my own soul as in view of preparing my instructions.
And John Paul II was drawn strongly to the Rosary. All are meditative practices. All are different meditative practices. There is some raw material. And there’s a practice, an activity.
Contemplation is about something else.
“Contemplation” is a word used to describe a different reality. We could also use the word passio divinorum, “suffering divine things.” (Saint Francis de Sales said that contemplation is “a loving, simple and permanent attentiveness of the mind to divine things.”) We can choose our words. The words don’t matter much. The reality matters more. Words just point to a reality.
The reality that contemplation describes is, as John of the Cross says,
naught else than a secret, peaceful, and loving infusion from God which, if it be permitted, enkindles the soul with the spirit of love. (Dark Night, Bk 1, Ch 9, #2)
Alphonsus says, in the same spirit,
Contemplation is very different from meditation. In meditation, God is sought after by a discursive effort; in contemplation there is no effort of this kind as God has been found and is gazed at.
Contemplation is not a practice. It’s something that happens either consciously or (I think) unconsciously in the higher parts of the soul. It’s a gift from God. It’s an infusion straight from God-is-Love to our soul. It’s a gaze. It’s an infusion. It’s not an effort. It’s a kind of divine peace amid our chaos.
And one of the key recommendations of the saints is to place meditation at the service of contemplation. Saint John of the Cross says it thus:
Therefore directors should not impose meditation on persons in this state [of contemplation], nor should they oblige them to make acts or strive for satisfaction and fervor. Such activity would place an obstacle in the path of the principal agent who, as I say, is God, who secretly and quietly inserts in the soul loving wisdom and knowledge, without specified acts… (Living Flame, St 3, #33)
Saint Francis de Sales says it thus:
If, while saying vocal prayers, your heart feels drawn to mental prayer, do not resist it, but calmly let your mind fall into that channel, without troubling because you have not finished your appointed vocal prayers. The mental prayer you have substituted for them is more acceptable to God, and more profitable to your soul. I should make an exception of the Church’s Offices, if you are bound to say those by your vocation – in such a case these are your duty.
If God calls us to leave aside meditation for some moments or more or less frequently, in order to focus on contemplative love, then the answer is always to be yes.