Meditation is a type of prayer. It is not immediately obvious for some where it falls within the four standard categories of prayer, namely the fourth of these following kinds:
1) justice: penance and forgiveness of our sins,
2) gratitude: praise and thanksgiving for all that God has done for us,
3) supplication: requests for our needs to be met, and
4) adoration: worship of God for Who He is.
Meditation is the spiritual equivalent of a small boy talking to his father, asking all sorts of questions: Why is the sky blue? Do fish drink air?, and etc. So important is meditation to the spiritual life that Pope Saint Pius X wrote to the priests (in the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Pius X On the Priesthood, August 4, 1908) the following:
"Writing to Eugene III, formerly his pupil, but at the time Roman Pontiff, the most holy Abbot Bernard frankly and urgently admonished him never to omit his daily meditation on divine things, on any pretext of the great and many cares that accompany the supreme apostolate. He contended that he was justified in this, thus enumerating most prudently the advantages of the practice: 'Meditation purifies the source - - that is, the mind - - from which it springs. Then it governs the affections, directs the acts, corrects the excesses, regulates the conduct, brings purity and order into the life of him who practices it; finally it confers knowledge both of human and divine things. Meditation separates what is confused, brings together what is divided, collects what is scattered, reveals what is hidden, investigates what is the truth, examines what is probable, discovers what is false and fictitious. Meditation ordains what is to be done, reflects on what has been performed, so that nothing remains in the mind either incorrect or needing to be corrected. In prosperity it has the sense of coming adversity; when adversity comes, it comes unfelt, and of these, the latter is the fruit of fortitude, the former of prudence.'"
A key ingredient to meditation is thinking, using your head instead of your glands. Anyone and everyone is capable of giving a knee-jerk response to any situation or question. Indeed, the enemy of our souls is counting on that, and we have made it far too easy for him. There is much evil in the world, from abortion to pornography clear to the various outbreaks of violence around the world. It is easy to say that "I am just one person; I didn't cause any of these things, indeed I have been fighting some of them with my prayers and perhaps also my activism."
However I say that anyone who simply "goes along to get along" rather than taking the time to research the issues, ascertain the real facts of a matter, and meditate on those so as to gain a glimpse of God's perspective on the issue in question, thereby contributes to the evils in their own small way. For example, abortion continues to be legal in this country because too many of our citizens have failed to learn the pertinent medical facts of what it is that takes place during and abortion, nor to meditate on the issue.
It is easy to make the mistake that you are just one person, and so therefore unable to do anything in the face of millions or even billions who do the wrong thing. However, let us suppose for a moment that you were the one and only person who actually KNOWS what direction to take and who begins working tirelessly in that direction. Picture a raft with many people on it with their oars who are all attempting to row this raft in all different directions at once. Many have their oars in the air and push against nothing. Others hang their oars listlessly in the water, not concerned with making the raft move in any direction at all. The rest are all rowing, some this way and some that way, and many frequently switching direction.
As long as no one on the raft has any idea which way they should be rowing or why, it is easy to see that the raft must move about randomly in what mathematicians call a "random walk," which always brings it back to the same point and ultimately goes nowhere. All of the rowing of the random rowers is canceled out by the rowing of other random rowers. Put just ONE person on that raft who KNOWS the direction to row and who proceeds to do so persistently and tirelessly, and that raft will ultimately move in the direction taken by that one person, no matter how big it is and no matter how many other rowers there are.
Who are the persons who really matter, having the power to achieve tremendous good (or evil) in society? Those who do not simply follow "public opinion," which those who think already know to be not "what the public is thinking," but "what certain individuals want the public to be thinking," since that serves their own questionable purposes. It is not those who hold ostensible "leadership" roles in the community, but rather those who truly understand, and can help. The ostensible positions of leadership will simply follow naturally.
The world makes fun of Catholics saying "Your Church has answers to everything; that's why you don't have to think." Unfortunately all too often, many Catholics have actually bought into that mockery by living up to it. Really, however, it is the other way around. We Catholics are actually equipped for more and better thought regarding theological issues than anybody else. That is because we have the most "hard facts," in the form of reliable Church teachings, on which to base all of our theological thinking, or meditation.
When Our Lady told the three children at Fatima to fast and pray, it was not primarily the rote recitation prayers, such as the Rosary which she was referring to (although even those would be included in her meaning), but meditation. Rote prayers serve the purpose (among other things) of setting the stage for meditation by clearing our minds of worldly concerns and focusing our attention on Divine concerns as, for example with the Rosary, we meditate on each of the mysteries and its meaning for our life, our role in the plan of God, and in our spirituality. By fasting we again turn our attention away from the worldly concerns (ever notice that it costs money to eat, but nothing to fast?) and pursue the Divine concerns.
Without meditation there can never be real vigilance, and it is vigilance which has been lacking. How did such evil men as Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, or Obama rise to power? How is it that clothing fashions in this century were allowed to become what our Lady at Fatima already predicted would "cause many to enter perdition"? How is it that abortion has come to be legal, and to remain legal for so long? In all cases it is a lack of vigilance on the part of the people who simply went along.
Without meditation, we never get to the bottom of just what it is that bothers our children, so as to prevent them from entering a wrong course as soon as they are on their own. Without meditation we cannot ever truly understand the people around us, our parents, our children, our brothers and sisters, our friends, and our spouse, so as to get along with them in the manner that God desires. How many divorces have occurred simply because one or both of the spouses simply refused to take the time to meditate on the concerns, words, and actions of their spouse so as to function as a true spouse themselves?
Given this importance meditation has, let's take another look at just what meditation actually is. Imagine taking a whole day (or longer period of time) simply to ask of God, "What do You want?" Not merely what He may want for our life, or the life of some other person or what He may want for this parish or that country, or for me to do next, but What, over all, and overarching all, does our Lord most truly want? Having asked that, merely listen. So often in our prayers we talk to God, but God wants to speak to us as well.
We humans are all such chatterboxes. We may spend so much time telling Him what He knows already and He listens patiently, but do we stick around to see what He has to say to us? That "listening" is what is itself called meditation. It is God pouring His Own Divine wisdom straight into our soul! How can we neglect so great a gift?
There are of course dangers and concerns regarding meditation. While God is actually quite anxious to share with us His wisdom and knowledge, so is the Devil. We are not to be seeking "voices" as if we were spirit channellers or mediums. God promised to us wisdom (James 1:5), not revelation. Do not confuse wisdom with revelation. The Mormon "prophet" Joseph Smith made that mistake, so that by asking for "wisdom" what he was really asking for was "revelation." If we go by his own account, "God" gave him one, a false and heretical one, as it turned out.
What God will often point us to is simply what He has already revealed. Are we holding a grudge? Scripture already tells us that if we do not forgive, neither can we be forgiven. For that, we need no "special revelation," just a nudge of the Holy Ghost on our heart that we could use a re-reading of the Sermon on the Mount.
Everything God would want to tell us begins with His Divine Public Revelation, Sacred Scripture, Tradition, the authoritative teachings of His holy Church. Why study the leaves when we still have to learn about the roots, trunk, and branches? Why master the details of this or that Private Revelation or apparition, while our Bible and Catechism remain closed books?
Even worse, look at the time we spend filling our souls with murders, wars, violence, lust, theft, and so forth which the media is almost exclusively devoted to presenting to us, either in fiction or in fact. What if that time were spent filling our souls with the life stories and thoughts of the great saints? The Catholic Church knew that and provided the commemoration of a different Saint (or some other such special holy occasion or Truth) every day of the year. In this day and age however, it is itself something to meditate on how many days in the calendar are squandered by being devoid of any saint or commemoration over the course of the three Novus Ordo yearly cycles.
These guides provided by the Church is what people had before radio and television. One could open up the daily Missal (or else attend daily Mass early in the morning) and learn a little bit about Saint So-and-so, who did such-and-such, and taught us thus. Today, one opens up the TV guide to see what Private Eye So-and-so is going to investigate today; will it be a serial killer, a child molester, a corrupt Police Chief, or a drug ring? Whatever it is it won't be someone doing the will of God in some worthwhile ministry!
The world has so very many opportunities to shove its garbage down our spiritual throats; meditation is God's one great chance to get a word or two of His in edgeways. I would like to conclude with this quote from the holy priest Padre Pio who deserves to be officially and authoritively beatified and canonized:
"If you do not succeed in meditating well, do not give up doing your duty. If the distractions are numerous, do not be discouraged; do the meditation of patience, and you will still profit. Decide upon the length of your meditation, and do not leave your place before finishing, even if you have to be crucified … Why do you worry so much because you do not know how to meditate as you would like? Meditation is a means to attaining God, but it is not a goal in itself. Meditation aims at the love of God and neighbor. Love God with all your soul without reserve, and love your neighbor as yourself, and you will have accomplished half of your meditation."